Bradley Waters from the Australian Fashion Council on the steps that are being taken to build a stronger Australian fashion industry in 2021.
Australia’s creative people have so much to offer, so why do many of us feel we need to leave our homes to start our careers? There is a need to build a stronger support system for local talent and that’s where the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) comes in.
The AFC is a not-for-profit membership organisation that facilitates collaboration across the fashion industry. Its purpose is “to champion, support and guide the recovery and evolution of a thriving, resilient and inclusive fashion and textile industry”. The AFC’s programs cover business development, supply chains, design, responsible practice and export, with members ranging from students to fibre growers.
The AFC has big plans for 2021 including redesigning its membership program, developing a code of conduct for the industry and advocating for better recognition from government. Just last week, the organisation received a $1 million funding boost from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources to put towards an Australian fashion brand campaign.
We caught up with partnerships and memberships manager Bradley Waters to chat about the steps the AFC is taking to get the industry from where it is now to where it needs to be.
Building a stronger support network
The Australian creative industries can sometimes feel like the wild west. With no mandated guidelines for businesses or practitioners to follow, it can be hard to know what your rights are and even harder to enforce them. The AFC is developing a code of conduct that will provide clarity on things like fair working conditions and demand accountability from its members.
“What we want to do on our side is create a code of conduct that our members will have to sign,” Bradley says. “There will be different things covered in that code of conduct such as sexual harassment, diversity, inclusion and treating workers fairly.”
“It’s not something that can be legally enforced but it’s a way to start making these businesses accountable.”
The code of conduct is part of a bigger plan to overhaul the AFC’s membership program. The organisation currently supports just under 400 members, 70 per cent of which are small and medium sized Australian fashion brands.
“We have around 380 members, who are predominantly small to medium size fashion brands. We also represent service providers, manufacturers, suppliers, education and uniforms/workwear within our membership,” Bradley says.
The AFC has recognised the need to diversify its membership to encourage better collaboration across the fashion industry. To address this, the organisation has just launched a new membership package which provides best practice guides and toolkits for members. It has also set up a fund to support Indigenous fashion and textile organisations, with 5% of membership fees allocated to a different organisation each year.
“We want to capture every part of the Australian industry,” Bradley says.
The AFC also needs to engage retailers in this conversation. Major Australian retailers could help kick-start graduates’ careers by dedicating floorspace to their collections. But, according to Bradley, the perceived risk of supporting new or experimental products holds most businesses back.
“We want to be progressive and make some serious changes within the Australian fashion industry, but we need the whole fashion ecosystem to support us as well, to make a true impact.”
Quantifying the industry’s value
There is no dedicated union for freelancers working in fashion and little government support for the industry, a situation the AFC is working to address. The organisation is currently in talks with the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia and government about establishing better protections for all workers in this industry.
“Yes, it is creative, but it’s a business,” he says. “[Fashion] employs so many people ranging from designing the garments, manufacturing the garments, creating the garments — there’s so many different touch points that it affects.”
So why isn’t fashion recognised and supported by the government? According to Bradley, it comes down to data.
“They need statistics and data: this is Australian fashion, this is what it's worth, this is what it represents, this is the identity.”
The AFC has commissioned Ernst and Young to prepare a research report that quantifies the fashion industry’s economic value.
“This will be a landmark study examining the economic contribution of Australia’s fashion and textile industry,” Bradley says. “It's an opportunity to bring insights together and champion Australian fashion in an engaging way while highlighting the economic benefit of the sector and how the government can help support it.”
Looking ahead, Bradley is hopeful for the future of the industry. He says the pandemic provided space for reflection and planning, and now the AFC is ready to push forward with action.
“2020 was a lot of conversations of strategy and 2021 will be about bringing these strategies to life.”
In the same week this article was due to be published, the AFC received a massive funding boost from the federal government. The $1 million allocation of funds is the result of a year-long conversation with the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and will be used to develop a campaign for what the AFC is calling the ‘Australian fashion brand’.
"We're incredibly grateful to receive this opportunity to help support the growth of the Australian fashion industry. It's an exciting new chapter for the AFC and our supportive community. The first phase of the project will be to create a local and global campaign around Australian fashion and understand its positioning as a brand,” Bradley says.
“The outcome is to differentiate homegrown talent and the unique characteristics of our industry, while creating new opportunities for Australian brands."