Stocking industry runs out of time as Melbourne’s last hosiery manufacturer closes

Melbourne’s last hosiery manufacturer announced its closure at the end of last month to the despair of local designers who now have no choice but to send their manufacturing orders offshore.

Winsome Hosiery, which has been producing Australian-made stockings for about 35 years from its Brunswick factory, will be turning off its machines for the final time on completion of outstanding orders. At least 14 staff will lose their jobs as a result of the factory’s closure.

A spokesman from the company’s management team told SmartCompany the business had to close because “we were losing money hand over fist”.

“Sales weren’t there because it’s cheaper to import from overseas than to manufacture here,” the spokesman says.

Although business was slow, Winsome Hosiery had a stable of independent designers who supported the local manufacturer and proudly promoted the fact their products were Australian made.

Those businesses, of which there were about five that SmartCompany knows of, now have to investigate the cost and practices of hosiery manufacturers offshore.

Australian-made no more

Emina Dzananovic started her fashion label OK-OK in 2007. Originally Dzananovic focused on clothes design, but it became quickly apparent it was her stockings which were a hit with customers. She told SmartCompany she now has to re-examine her brand offering.

“I can’t be Australian-made anymore, which is what I’ve spent the past four years building myself as, very proudly, and offering that point of difference to Australian and international customers,” she says.

She says the May 31 announcement of Winsome’s closure came as a shock.

“It felt like it was the end,” she says. “I didn’t think they would close immediately, I thought we’d have some warning. I’m lucky to be okay over the next six months. If I was in a position where if I didn’t have stock leading into the next six months it would be a different story and that lack of warning would have been much worse,” she says.

Vera Havari, who started her stockings label Tightology in 2009, told SmartCompany she saw the writing on the wall last year and, although she – like Dzananovic – was reluctant to have her stockings made offshore, had started sending about a quarter of her orders to a manufacturer in Italy. Havari also designs socks, but they can still be manufactured in Melbourne.

At this stage it won’t cost Havari much more to have her stockings manufactured in Italy.

“There is no difference in price for us, it doesn’t reflect in higher cost for consumers,” says Havari.

However, following US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s announcement the United States will be winding down its stimulus program by as early as mid-next year, the dollar has already started sliding, which could impact Havari’s manufacturing costs in the future.

The immediate problem with having Tightology’s stock made on the other side of the world is the increased lag time.

“The leeway is a problem with purchasing in Italy, we need to be organised six months in advance rather than three months,” she says.

Havari also says she will miss the personal relationship she was able to have with the Melbourne-based Winsome staff.

“There is a pleasure in seeing the guy down the road making your products – you can chat to them on the phone, you know who is dying your tights – but unfortunately that’s over now.”

But the biggest issue for both Havari and Dzananovic is they can no longer promote their products as Australian-made.

Dzananovic is reluctant to have her products made in countries like Bangladesh, Taiwan or China for ethical reasons, so is in discussions with manufacturers in New Zealand and Japan. However, this is especially tricky for the OK-OK label, which is sold in Japan specifically because it’s Aussie made.

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