Friday, 6 December 2013

Decline and Fall of the Australian Clothing Industry

I get sad when thinking about the loss of industries like clothing manufacture, and disagreed strongly with Paul Keating in his interview recently with Kerry O'Brien (that four part documentary that finished last week) where he said that it was something he thought was a good thing, all these people losing their jobs in manufacturing. He said they just got a better job. Not only is that certain bollocks, but consider the loss of skill with these industries? Since almost nobody manufactures clothing in Australia and those who worked in the industry are literally dying off, we now rely on third world countries and China to make our clothing. We should all know that their conditions and wages are very significantly worse than those who worked in our factories. In what way does this make our country or the world better?
Now that we don't make our clothing here, all the equipment has also gone "offshore" permanently. I feel that we have lost something important. How can we be comfortable with relying on third world countries? How can we be OK with mistreatment of the people who make our clothes just so we can pay almost nothing. I know I felt better with a "Made in Australia" label (or Britain, Ireland, USA) because the workers were not mistreated. I can't support slavery just because the slaves are in a different country. Think about that when you buy your next piece of clothing.
My affection for vintage machines is an extension of my affection for quality, locally made garments. I love my Pinnock machines (although I don't use them currently). Made in Adelaide and beautiful things for sure. There's no need to pollute the air shipping them to Australia (ships can spew out any amount of pollution, as anti pollution laws don't apply to shipping), because they were proudly made here. Go into a shop and look at a new "plastic wonder" sewing machine. Made in China, plastic, electronic. Sure it seems to do everything you want it to, but try sewing through a couple of layers of denim and it won't. Ask about its warranty - 12 months? It will break down shortly after this (it's meant to). Now ask who fixes them and how much they'd charge! Not to mention the extreme discomfort that I for one get when the machine continues after I remove my foot from the controller (the computer feels it necessary to finish a cycle). Older machines don't break down often and if maintained to a basic standard they may never break down at all. Of the fifty or so old machines I've owned, only one has ever broken. The Singer 498 Stylist, and this was because Singer started using plastic gears in the late 1960s. However, it was still easy and cheap to fix, and to give it credit the original plastic gears did last over forty years.

So if you ever wondered why anyone would ever pay $20 for a t-shirt, now you know. If you ever wondered why I rave about a fifty something year old sewing machine, now you know.

Additionally, I do value a treadle: Summer in Australia always comes with power outages. In the middle of a seam? No problem, pop the machine into a treadle cabinet and in a minute or two you're finishing your seam.

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