Yesterday another small, but perfectly formed, New Zealand designer signalled her intent to close the doors on her business early next year. Kristine Crabb, the woman behind the stunning and irreverent Miss Crabb label, has given the last 15 years of her life to something that she has described as being more like an art project than fashion but now it’s time to move on.
On the one hand, you could say that 15 years is a good innings and why not quit while you’re winning. On the other hand, it feels like another body blow to a local fashion industry that, just like the Franz Joseph glacier, is getting smaller by the day.
For those not familiar with the brand, Miss Crabb has been one of only a handful of labels still designing and manufacturing her clothing entirely in New Zealand which is no mean feat considering the state of New Zealand’s manufacturing industry. But now it seems she too is tired of the hassle - “Earlier this year, we were trying to find a sample machinist, and we just couldn’t find anyone. That’s sad, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is sad particularly when you don’t have to delve too far into the archives to discover that New Zealand once had a thriving clothing manufacturing industry that gave thousands of people not just a job but a craft. That was until 1992 when the borders were opened, and the imports started flooding in. In 1989, clothing imports were worth $129 million per year while today that number is over $1.5 billion [not including footwear or textiles]. The local industry couldn’t compete with that sort of deluge, and most manufacturers had disappeared into the ether by the early 2000s. Today all that is left of that industry is an “unofficial" network of piece-work pattern-makers, contract machinists and finishers that are literally dying out right alongside the growing number of other endangered species in New Zealand.
Today there are somewhere in the vicinity of 600-700 fashion students graduating every year with visions of starting their own label in Godzone. Will that now become a pipedream? And what will our high street fashion strips look like when there are no longer any cutting-edge labels like Miss Crabb with its pink neon light in the front window pulling us in? Are we witnessing the last hoorah for ‘Made in New Zealand’ or will we do something while there’s still time?