Australian fashion company thriving on Paris catwalks but struggling at home

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Australian fashion company thriving on Paris catwalks but struggling at home
Australian fashion company thriving on Paris catwalks but struggling at home


This isn’t the type of place where you’d expect to find the beginnings of couture fashion.

Melbourne Textiles Knitting is deep in industrial suburbia, hardly distinguishable from the factories that surround it.

However, inside is where the magic happens. 

The fabrics they make here end up on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York.

“We work with many of the iconic French labels,” says business owner Stephen Morris-Moody.

Jason Rappetti and Stephen Morris-Moody at Melbourne Textiles Knitting.(ABC News: Ashlynne McGhee)

Brands like Chanel and Balenciaga, the types who love confidentiality agreements.

“Yes, well you said it, I didn’t,” he laughs.

“I still pinch myself some days when I see our stuff on catwalks in Europe. I think, ‘My goodness, I’ve got a very small, niche business in Melbourne, and I’m selling to iconic labels all around the world.'”

Plenty of Australian and US labels buy the company’s knits too.

But this is a struggling business. Not because there’s no demand, but because there’s too much demand, coupled with crippling trade tariffs and few skilled workers.

‘We don’t have enough skilled labour’

A large knitting machine
“Only a handful of people in Australia” know how to use the machines at Melbourne Textiles Knitting, owner Stephen Morris-Moody says.(ABC News: Ashlynne McGhee)

Much of the Australian-made fashion industry is feeling the pain.

Demand for Australian-made clothing has boomed over the past two years, by as much as 400 per cent, as labels realise it’s the only way to quickly get stock on racks to sell.

Manufacturers can’t keep up: They’re knocking back major Australian brands, telling them they just can’t make the clothes here.

“The problem is that we don’t have enough skilled labour in the industry,” explains Australian Fashion Council chief executive Leila Naja Hibri.

A woman wearing a dark jacket over a white top.
Australian Fashion Council CEO Leila Naja Hibri.(ABC News)

Skilled migration ground to a halt during the pandemic and, of the 82 trades listed for government-funded apprenticeships, none are in fashion.

“I mean, I’m stunned that we don’t have an apprenticeship and traineeship program,” she said.

“This industry — this $27.2 billion industry that exports twice as much as beer and wine combined, and employs more than utilities and mining, employs about 489,000 people in Australia — has long been forgotten.”

There are some promising signs from the new federal government. It’s pledged to overhaul how funding for apprenticeships is decided.

“The fact there are some occupations that are not on the list is of concern to me,” Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor told ABC’s 7.30.

“Here, we’ve got an opportunity to supply the skills and labour to those employers who want to manufacture clothing here.”

‘Just wish we could find more people’

Three men stand side-by-side smiling.
Jason Rappetti, Stephen Morris-Moody and Josef Berka at Melbourne Textiles Knitting.(ABC News: Ashlynne McGhee)

Mr Morris-Moody can’t wait around to see if and when that may eventuate.

His head knitting technician, Josef Berka, wants to retire.

“There’s only a handful of people in Australia who know how to use these machines and they’re all close to retirement,” he explains.

Textiles student Jason Rappetti called for a job just at the right time. For the past year and a half he’s been Josef’s apprentice, learning how to use and fix these intricate machines.

Without any government support, it’s an expensive exercise, but it’s the only option.

“He’s young, he’s conscientious … and it was sheer luck that we found him,” Mr Morris-Moody said.

“He’s doing really well. I just wish I could find more people like him. But, to be honest, I don’t even know where to look.

“I don’t think people see a future in our industry, which is a shame, because we’re doing really amazing things.

“And there is a future, if we had a bit more support, if what we do was acknowledged.”


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