Clothing and Fashion Industries

Although always dependent on imported attire and fabrics, especially high-grade goods, a local clothing, footwear, and textile industry was set up in Eastern Australia soon after first settlement. These industries have been subject to a persistently troubled history, although until the mid-twentieth century, Australia sustained a sound reputation for manufacturing good-quality, comfortable clothing and textiles. Immediately after World War II, local wool fabrics were successfully promoted, initially by the Australian Wool Board and later the Australian Wool Corporation, but the situation has remained endemically volatile at the quality end of the fashion spectrum. While a fashion industry of sorts emerged by the early twentieth century, the real high point for the rag trade occurred in the decade immediately following World War II.

However, from the 1960s, Australia's textile and clothing industries started to lose what market share they had; coupled with protectionism, the mainstream industry, with some exceptions like the Prue Acton and Trent Nathan labels, began a serious decline. Chronic lack of capital, a small population, lack of ability to market highvolume goods and the steady lifting of tariffs from the late 1970s, made Australia's industries less and less competitive with imports, especially those from China. The latter became the country's main source of clothing by

Eugene Von Guerard, Black Hill. This 1 984 watercolor is indicative of the clothing style of early Australians, where fashion was eclipsed by function. Until the late twentieth century, most Australian garments tended toward the masculine and unremarkable.

La Trobe Picture Collection, The State Library of Victoria. Reproduced by permission.

Clothing Late Nineteenth Century

Eugene Von Guerard, Black Hill. This 1 984 watercolor is indicative of the clothing style of early Australians, where fashion was eclipsed by function. Until the late twentieth century, most Australian garments tended toward the masculine and unremarkable.

La Trobe Picture Collection, The State Library of Victoria. Reproduced by permission.

the 1980s. The decline in the local industry persisted. Following the worst clothing retail sales on record in 1996, the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week was inaugurated in Sydney, and the following year the first Melbourne Fashion Festival. Both were attempts to showcase Australian products and draw international buyers. While neither venture has had overwhelming success, a number of fresh, new Australian designers made a strong impact in Europe and the United States in the mid-1990s. These include Collette Dinnigan, Asian-born Akira Isogawa, who made his debut in 1996, the edgy clothing of Sass and Bide (launched in 1999), Easton Pearson, with its fusion designs combining traditional Indian and African cultures with contemporary ideas, and Morrissey (who launched solo in 1997). Despite these successes, Australian fashion remains somewhat marginalized, with its identity still under negotiation and overseas acceptance sporadic. In fact, competitive global marketing, the impression that the country is far removed from major centers of style, and its seasons out of step with the Northern Hemisphere has generally exacerbated rather than eased the industry's problems.

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