The end of more than just an era… and the red-tape problem that is inhibiting textile manufacturing in Australia

phoebe_soloPhoebe Garland Co-owner & Co-founder – Garland & Garland Fashion Pty Ltd Phoebe Garland co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney, which also offers business mentoring & project management of marketing to the fashion industry. www.garlands.com.au

There are only a handful of fashion designers that you can call iconic in this country, and Jenny Bannister is definitely one of those designers. With so much fast fashion around courtesy of the ZARA’s, the Jenny Bannister label was the complete opposite. Bannister stems from the day designers were taught pattern making skills and had their own original creations, and were able to make a commercial success out of them. The Jenny Bannister was a very successful label stemming from the 1970’s. It started out in couture and eventually moved into contemporary evening wear broadening her commercial success. The Bannister label has had a very strong wholesale and retail business and not to mention a celebrity following with the label highly collected and sought after. Her designs are featured prominently in the Melbourne Fashion Festival and her pieces have also recently been auctioned at Christie’s as well as being collected by major art galleries and museums. In 2005, she was honoured on a commemorative Australian postage stamp, along with other Australian fashion designers, Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa, Joe Saba, Carla Zampatti and fellow RMIT alum Prue Acton.

Sadly in 2009, The Jenny Bannister label ceased due to endless problems associated with producing the line, union issues, and unable to find makers proved all too much for this lovable designer. She cited many reasons, including the ”nightmare task” of keeping up with confusing paperwork required by the Clothing Trades Award 1999 and constant fear of fines up to $10,000 for even accidental non-compliance.

It’s no secret that Bannister and I speak almost daily on Facebook and quite often chat on long threads about the latest issues in the fashion industry. But it is the problems associated with manufacturing her label in Australia that I felt really needed to be highlighted, especially for small fashion labels. The serious demise of small makers and the catch 22 of the unions wishing to protect workers rights are having a devastating effect on any future manufacturing for small businesses and employment in Australian fashion. I asked Jenny about the demise of her label and what exactly went on behind the scenes to lead to such a sad ending of such an iconic brand.

Describe what happened to the demise of the iconic Jenny Bannister label with some of your manufacturing problems?
Jenny Bannister: The demise of JB label was due to a lack of skilled dressmakers available to do small runs, cost no problem, lack of factories still up and working to do the work, and all the forms to be filled in, to be sent to the union for each order of work.

Enlighten us about some of the codes of practice you need to watch out for especially for emerging designers manufacturing in Australia.
UnknownJenny Bannister:
 To stay in business, a label must apply for a board of reference number (BOR). This number must be printed on all paperwork in the production line; The original BOR form must list all makers, their addresses and phone numbers. If they give work out to another party they must tell the designer, and more forms are to be filled in. If you don’t know what your makers are doing with your work, and it has gone to another party, the designer will be fined $10,000 for each breach of the award. If you don’t register for a BOR number, the designer is automatically fined $10,000 for a start, and then in multiples of $10,000 for each breach of the award. You must send in your BOR forms every 3 months to two different union bodies. The Union goes around to the makers to inspect the working books, If things don’t fit together in the awards framework. The designer gets all the fines; sometimes a factory can get them too, But mainly the designer.

Do you think the unions are inhibiting small manufacturing in Australia?
Jenny Bannister:
 Small up and coming designers, and small run specialty designers can’t work in this set up for love of ethical etc. Good makers don’t come cheap, trouble is they don’t come at all theses days! In the past, to get a run of 6 all the same, a designer would look up the local paper for the dress making advertisements. Here you could find registered businesses, making 6 bridesmaids, Usually located in an old shop or at home. Paper work for the taxman was used, when GST came in they all registered for an ABN or went underground. Now there are no dressmaker’s adverts in the local papers and factories just sigh when you only need 10 garments made.

Is working from home what the sewers want and suits their lifestyle?
Jenny Bannister:
 Working at home is something a lot of people want to do however in the garment industry it’s not allowed anymore, The unions have made it impossible to work at home as an independent business, the only people allowed to work at home by the union award have to work as if they were in a factory, following hourly rates, break times, overtime penalties, sick days, holidays and super contributions. The designer must treat the home worker as if they are with the designer in a factory, and pay all the costs. The worker cannot have their own business at home, it is forbidden by the union. When I closed down I had a few contractors who I enrolled with an employment agency, to get them work. After 2 weeks the agency rang me and said, “Sorry, they all want to work at home, I can’t find them any work”. These registered contractors knew they could earn much more by working their hours and times of the year, and charge me and other designers much more than sitting in a dingy factory all year. They also had the luxury of travelling overseas whenever they liked, with out asking for time off.

jennybannister-200x0What is the difference between outworkers and contractors? Your makers actually had their own businesses so how could they be considered ‘outworkers’ in the eyes of the unions? Jenny Bannister: The difference between outworkers and contractors is a very grey area in the Textile award. So grey in fact I employed the services of the Fairwork Ombudsman to make it clear for all concerned after interviewing my contractors he declared in writing “That they were all contractors”. Contractors are a registered business with an ABN number, charge GST, pay their own tax, super, work cover, sick pay, holidays etc. They are the boss. They invoice the designer and charge them GST. They only do the work they want at they price they ask. Out workers are delivered cut work, with a time line and a stipulated price per item. The designer and factory are responsible for all their entitlements and tax, (I never used this sort of labour so I don’t know it inside out) When the unions inspected my business it was in 2006. They were of the opinion that anyone conducting work from their home, was an “outworker,” Well I ran my company out of my residential C Home for 21 years with a council permit, and that was all good. We were all working at home, as rents were climbing so high, it was too expensive and stressful to hire other premises. Travel to work time, was also a big factor in staying at home to work. Most girls who worked in my studio wasted 1 hour morning and night, just to drive to and from work. After 3 years of stress, I knew it was no use trying to keep afloat.

Do you have to pay your makers superannuation if they are not technically employees of your business?
Jenny Bannister:
 Paying super to outworkers is mandatory by the Textile award. As to who should be paying it (factory or designer is another strange grey area) You would think that, as a designer, if you take your order to a factory, that the factory will just add all their overheads into your garments, and you just pay their invoice. Well it seems, that’s not the case in the fashion industry.

Thank you Jenny for your insight into such a sad demise of manufacturing. Not to mention the demise of such an iconic label. While no one wishes for workers to be treated badly or treated unethically, it seems to me to be a complete catch 22 in protecting workers rights that are inhibiting any jobs for workers in the process. The irony about the closure of Jenny Bannister label is that she is one of the few designers that wanted to make in Australia in ethical conditions and is completely against manufacturing in Asia. The Gillard government has apparently given the textile unions 4 million dollars to encourage ethically made garments in Australia. With the majority of textile manufacturing shifted overseas courtesy of the Button Plan in the 1980’s, it is more important than ever to protect this small textile manufacturing in Australia. But my question is, will there be any garment makers left for fear of union inspections and fear of $10,000 fines? And therefore how will unions protect workers jobs if there are no jobs left to protect?

Jenny Bannister now co-hosts Fashion Torque along with celebrity stylist Phillip Boon at Globe Café, a monthly event, which is an open invitation to talk the latest topics of the fashion industry and listen to key note speaker and topics. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/FashionTorqueShow

As always, very interested in your thoughts. Email me at: info@garlands.com.au
Join us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/garlandandgarlandfashion  or Twitter:www.twitter.com/garlandfashion

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