Kristine Crabb had been in business for 15 years but at the end of last month she closed the doors to her Ponsonby store and fashion label for good.
The end of the chapter comes after years of being "time poor" and "cash-strapped" and Crabb says the industry today is fraction of what it was 10 years ago.
New Zealand's fashion industry is challenging and fiercely competitive given the uptake in online shopping and costs forcing designers' manufacturing to be done offshore. Cheap, fast fashion is a whole other ball park.
Crabb has been making clothes for more than half of her life. After graduating from fashion school, she ran a boutique for three years before starting Miss Crabb, a label she describes as "universal" and "earthy" in 2004.
The global financial crisis and subsequent recession throughout 2008/9 took its toll on the industry - that's when the sector began to change, and when the weaker brands and labels were weeded out from the cream of the crop, says Crabb.
A year or so later, social media began to take off, becoming a really strong tool for marketing and selling - and Crabb credits that as to how her fashion label recovered.
Before shutting up shop, Crabb spent 18 months pondering the end of the chapter. She says while the industry was rewarding it was also draining.
"I kind of just woke up one morning and decided that I didn't want to do it anymore," she says, adding she now has more time to spend with her family.
She always thought she would work in fashion for her whole life. Now, she's not so sure.
"Competition is so fierce, with all of the things that are available on online you're competing with the whole world, which is a challenge, but it's also an opportunity ... I think that's probably the hardest part of the industry."
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The Miss Crabb label stopped production in August last year, when it was working on its winter collection for this year.
Production is a big job, she says, there are always deadlines, and the possibilities for mistakes or delays are high. The brand made all of its clothes locally, mostly in Auckland, with exception of a run of jeans made in Melbourne, and imported natural fibres and materials from five or six suppliers. It also used a factory in Tauranga for its knitwear.
"The industry is shrinking every season," Crabb says.
"Because the competition is so fierce it is [getting] harder and harder to produce things here for the price you need to compete. People can't make money and so many businesses don't exist anymore because of it."
New Zealand fashion label Andrea Moore closed last year and the namesake designer declared herself bankrupt. Boutique shoe manufacturer Minnie Cooper, along with a handful of local designers, shut up for good last year citing increasing costs, competition and high exchange rates and influences outside of their control such as road works.
A brand can get the same item of clothing or accessory made for less money overseas than they can to have it manufactured locally - and that's the reason so many designers have moved away from New Zealand made and are increasingly turning to China, Bangladesh and other markets for production.
'Industry shrinking every season'
Manufacturing companies in New Zealand are now small and a fraction in size compared to what they used to be 10 or 20 years as a result of this, Crabb says.
When she started out in the industry there were so many cut, make and trim factories to work with. Now, it is largely "word of mouth" and most machinists worked from home.
"You could get belts and leather garments sewn easily, there were tanneries and fabric wholesalers but a couple of major ones closed down last year. The market is not there, you need to turnover a certain amount to have a business but the numbers just aren't there because people aren't producing in New Zealand like they were."
Cut and stitch garments, knitwear, belts, hats, socks, ties and swimwear can still be made in New Zealand but it is expensive.
Machinists and skilled garment manufacturers are few and far between, she says, and it's not a trade or skill area that people these days are wanting to get into.
Crabb says her machinists were all New Zealanders, not born here but had been living here their whole life. There were also a lot of immigrants working in production.
She believes Immigration NZ should add people who can sew and other specialist production skills that would benefit the country's fashion industry to its skills shortage lists: "That's what New Zealand really needs.
"Nobody teaches these skills because nobody wants to do it because it is such hard work."
That's another reason why designers and brands have garments made overseas - there just is not enough people to do the job locally and cost-effectively.
Miss Crabb was working about a year in advance, working on a season for the following season. The label used to have around 40 styles in two or three different colours in its core range and then 15 products per collection, producing around 120 styles twice a year.
A year ago the label had 12 staff. Four full timers in management, a design assistant, quality control specialist, six shop staff. It had four machinists making the clothes behind the scenes and used, four cut, make and trim factories making specialty items such as denim and coats.
"Everybody knows that it's a hard industry but I probably wouldn't work so hard in hindsight ... I always felt so time poor and so cash-strapped because you put so much money into your collections, and so much into sampling and photographing them. Then you've got to produce them, and then try and sell them. That's so much cash outlaid before you get the money [back], which might be 12 months later and you've got to pay wages and high rent."
Slave labour in New Zealand
In the almost 20 years she has been in business, Crabb says there have been no cases of slave labour in the industry she "could confirm" but says she had wondered if that was the case in some factories.
"There's a feeling I got," she says about a few occurrences during her career.
Crabb does not know what the going industry rate for a machinist is in New Zealand as it is largely based on the garment needing to be made. She paid her machinists $30 per hour but she is not sure it is as high as that with other designers.
"I remember, one of my machinists, when I first started in 2004, she was getting $16 an hour. I thought it was pretty low - she had been doing it for 25 years and was amazing."
Despite challenges in the industry, Crabb says it is possible for a New Zealand designer to be 100 per cent New Zealand made and run a successful business.
"You've got to be really clever about how you're doing things; that's one of the reasons why I was quite tired, because I felt like for the prices I could only make certain things.
"I basically could only make things like ... our really simple, minimal silk dresses. We do denim and coats and all sorts of things but they never sold as well because if you compare them to expensive coats; you could get a Chloé coat for the same price as a Miss Crabb coat.
"What it cost us versus how well it would sell was just prohibiting."
Crabb says the industry needs support from the Government and awareness of the benefits of New Zealand made to thrive again.
"There is definitely a trend coming back for locally made, quality and buying less but having it last - investing in beautiful clothes. When that gets more and more momentum it will be really good. The reality is, however, so many people in New Zealand are middle class or are living in poverty, and so many people can't actually afford to have middle class which is a big problem," she says.
"If people can invest more here rather than it being outsourced then it's going to be really good for New Zealand, workers and consumers who get interesting variety."