Last last year film student Nicholas Hudak made a short film profiling some players in the New Zealand apparel scene. The film, entitled Triple Bottom Line sought to show the changes that occur when an industry moves to offshore manufacturing in an accelerated fashion.

While I’m aware that it is far to complex a situation to say something so simple as “locally manufactured good, offshore manufactured bad”, the film is food for thought about the results of our consumptive decisions.

It’s 15 minutes long ad Nico, being an artiste, couldn’t abide with any compression, hence it’ll take a little while to download.

I’d be interested to hear your feedback.

Link to the film here.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

9 Comments
  • Hi Ben,

    nicely done short. Esp like titles. The whole premise is seriously flawed though.
    Ideologically driven and paranoid. I don’t want my kids driving sewing machines in a factory. In fact I’ve worked in factories…I don’t want anybody’s kids working in factories if they don’t have to.

  • I’m aware that I’m pushing the proverbial uphill David but maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

    You seem to have a somewhat naive view of employment – thought work good manual work bad. You’ve obviously been scarred by the experiences you’ve had in factories and can’t conceive of anything different – have a look at American Apparel for an alternative.

    You also seem to either discount a large proportion of the population or assume we can effect national mind shift in an instant. I refer to the multitude that quite enjoy being part of a manufacturing process and either don’t have the ability or the inclination to do otherwise. What I don’t want, in the event of our daughter not being a graphic designer, architect or software guru, is her feeling disenfranchised because there is no opportunity for her in society.

    To be honest I’ve spent a fair amount of time in graphic design studios and I don’t want my son hunched over a monitor for 10 hours a day doing mindless photoshop clearcutting and to go home at the end of the day feeling he hasn’t actually achieved anything. Similarly I’d rather my son didn’t spend 12 hours a day cutting computer code – I’d rather we left that for the low paid eastern European and Indian software workers.

    Actually for tht matter I’ve spent lots of time in classrooms and I don’t want my son having to deal with shitty little school kids – maybe we should outsource teaching as well. And health – patients re revolting so i don’t really want my kids having to deal with them either

    I’m not sure where the road you’ve started us downs ends…..

    Thus endeth my Sunday morning rant and lecture

  • I’m not at all naive about employment – I don’t have a value judgement to make about anyone’s occupation. Some people quite enjoy repetitive work that has little variation or learning opportunity associated with it.

    The only problem with low level functions is that, where possible they will (ultimately) be either automated or handed to the person who is prepared to do it at the lowest cost.

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with manual skills either. A Saville Row tailor will make a pretty good living. But the truth is that you can have a decent bespoke suit made for you in Hong Kong (Sam’s Tailor, Burlington Arcade, Kowloon – 92-94 Nathan Road. Open since 1957. Price range up to US$200 for most suits). That is simply economics at work.

    It has been acknowledged time and again that manufacturing clothing in New Zealand on a scale that can meet international demands for timeliness and quality is simply not viable. Most New Zealand workers expect to paid a New Zealand rate of pay. A sewing machine worker isn’t going to make very much money. That’s just a fact of life. So for every dollar he or she earns in the factory most of them will spend in The Warehouse to clothe themselves. So the twisted logic of flow-on effect doesn’t hold water.

    My argument is that the greatest economic opportunity for New Zealand is to create intellectual property that will earn residual income from licenses and royalties.

    That should be our national obsession.

    Finding willing markets for products that can be consumed in many forms and manufactured by many people. George Lucas didn’t make his fortune from ticket sales to Star Wars – he earned it through the first significant merchandising deal in the history of the movie industry.

    Every dollar Peter Jackson makes from the Lord of the Rings or King Kong is worth a serious multiple more than a buck made by Huffer (and I use that example on purpose because the Huffer boys have added value to a low value commodity – but it is an idea that has a ceiling – what is fashionable today isn’t reliable tomorrow – whatever happened to Crazy Shirts?).

    The flow-on from LoTR and KK is that it has spawned an industry with potential for high value growth. I just wish New Zealand film makers would stop thinking so small and start developing scripts the world wants to watch.

    As an advocate for SaaS surely you see that creating software utitlities that can be used by millions of customers is of a far higher value than shipping shirts – especially when you don’t have to ship anything.

    Socially and culturally it is better to be engaged in occupations that deliver higher returns in the long run. Preparing our children to compete on the world stage is far more important than protecting buggy whip industries.

    There is no moral high ground to be won by posturing about the value of honest-toil – like the Victorian industrialist or Jacobean squire – so long as it’s someone else who does it.

    All economies need diversity and the more you make from your Xero investment the less likely you are to want to spend your time ironing your own shirts. The housekeeping franchisee who cleans your house probably hopes for a better life in the future for them and their kids. It’s not their calling but a means to an end.

    Maybe when we’ve got rich from our IP we can afford to buy the hand-made limited edition kid gloves and backpacks that are produced by craftspeople in their suburban workshops (if the council doesn’t close them down first-the smell of tanning is pretty nasty, apparently).

  • Thanks for the reply David – while we disagree i is a good conversation to be having. Specific responses as follows;

    1) I am not sure why you automatically equate factory work with being “repetitive and offering little learning”. Arguable a skilled sewing machinist is more skilled and has more variation in their day to day “job” than a graphic designer

    2) Xero actually supports my contention – it would be vastly cheaper to cut the code in Mumbai but Rod et al have made the decision to do it here – cutting code is not dissimilar as a role to working in a sewing factory – why is Xero applauded for doing it here while sewers are berated?

    3) I’m aware that one can acquire bespoke suits cheap in Eastern countries. One can also buy fake Louis Vuitton bags and reverse engineered motorcycles – yet the premium products still sell. Surely your argument leads to homogenisation and the loss of luxury – given tat we’re selling our country as a value added economy this is a worrying trend? (And given the buoyant sales of al things luxury I disagree with your contention anyway)

    4) Getting back to my previous point, and extending your example of Peter Jackson – I contend that LOTR would never have happened without a small, creative and committed film manufacturing industry in NZ – that acted as an incubator to give people time to scale their offerings. Ditto for Icebreaker, Swandri by Karen Walker etc etc

    5) I was not posturing about honest toil – merely rebutting my what I perceive to be your contention; that manual labour is inferior to knowledge work

    6) Diversity – I agree entirely. Also recognise that people are diverse and we need to provide for their varying abilities and affinities

    7) We don’t tan leather in our suburban workshop – we manufacture niche products in our inner city workroom. And yes the people are craftspeople (and not in the glib, trite way that Bluebird chips are “crafted”)

    8) We won’t get rich entirely from our IP – our population is to large and diverse to expect it all to come from knowledge work. If it helps you then forget manufacturing – but do you put milking cows in the same classification as being a sewer? If not what, pray tell, is the difference and if yes then are you prepared for NZ to forego the commodity wealth currently flowing because farm work is very 20th century and not nearly as sexy as creating IP

    Fun conversation huh?

  • Sure, it’s good to think out loud.

    1) I am not sure why you automatically equate factory work with being “repetitive and offering little learning”. Arguable a skilled sewing machinist is more skilled and has more variation in their day to day “job” than a graphic designer.

    Factories by their nature are repetitive environments. The process of replicating an item to an exact specification is inherent in the definition as I understand it. Modern factories come from the mills of England and Ford’s assembly line. Your argument that a machinist has more variation than a graphic designer – I find it hard to believe that you genuinely believe that.

    I teach students in a four year degree programme in design. Of course you might be a mac operator is, by definition, a designer but (as Jeremy Clarkson might say) you’d be wrong…

    2) Xero actually supports my contention – it would be vastly cheaper to cut the code in Mumbai but Rod et al have made the decision to do it here – cutting code is not dissimilar as a role to working in a sewing factory – why is Xero applauded for doing it here while sewers are berated?

    Code is core business for a software company. I wouldn’t expect a company that was innovating with code to sub it out – if only to protect IP

    3) I’m aware that one can acquire bespoke suits cheap in Eastern countries. One can also buy fake Louis Vuitton bags and reverse engineered motorcycles – yet the premium products still sell. Surely your argument leads to homogenisation and the loss of luxury – given tat we’re selling our country as a value added economy this is a worrying trend? (And given the buoyant sales of al things luxury I disagree with your contention anyway)

    Why do you equate ‘eastern’ with fake? A hand-made suit is a hand made suit. Not the same thing. I have a sneaking suspicion that consumption of luxury goods isn’t being driven by machinists.

    4) Getting back to my previous point, and extending your example of Peter Jackson – I contend that LOTR would never have happened without a small, creative and committed film manufacturing industry in NZ – that acted as an incubator to give people time to scale their offerings. Ditto for Icebreaker, Swandri by Karen Walker etc etc

    Exactly, but once you have progressed ther is no point trying to argue that your prototypical practices were superior or worth preserving because without them the superior model couldn’t exist. In the film Jeremy Moon’s operation seemed to be staffed by a number of people who looked pretty happy doing high value work. He said there was no way that his business would ship the volume they do from New Zealand

    5) I was not posturing about honest toil – merely rebutting my what I perceive to be your contention; that manual labour is inferior to knowledge work.

    I explicitly said I don’t regard manual labour as inferior. But I don’t think people should do inefficient or unnecessary labour if they don’t have to. I sometimes draw or carve things just because I enjoy doing it. But I’m not William Morris or Ruskin – I don’t vest it with any ‘meaning’ or nobility. If I owned a factory I would invest in labour saving devices in order to create efficiencies that would lower costs and improve profits – with which I could grow the biz and employ the capital in efficient ways.

    7) We don’t tan leather in our suburban workshop – we manufacture niche products in our inner city workroom. And yes the people are craftspeople (and not in the glib, trite way that Bluebird chips are “crafted”)

    The tanning remark was an ironic reference to the Chalk-thingy guys who were ordered to close their plant in the burbs down.

    Primary production as we know it is probably not sustainable – it is an environmental disaster (but the Government don’t want to address it till 2013 – which might prove to be an unlucky number -but that is a whole different story).

    I convinced Vincent Heeringa and Martin Bell to change our collective focus from producing a magazine about advertising and markeitng communications to the creative economy when we were in the early stages because the foot and mouth hoax on Waiheke scared me silly when I saw the numbers. It was plain to me that we need to diversify our economy. Having too many eggs in one basket is never good strategy – even when you’re giddy with milk solid profits.

    I’m not challenging your business choices or judging them. But I do know that, if you wanted to grow substantially and serve global customers in any concentrations then you’d need some serious efficiencies to get economies from scale. if you have competitors – and who hasn’t – how will you stay ahead of them if you don’t generate sufficient revenue…but hey…you might just like things the way they are (which reminds me of a classic English show about the industrialist Sir John Harvey Jones tried to help business plan to survive – one of them was the Morgan car company – the directors of the company put up many of the same arguments you have – while their employees pushed ash framed rolling chassis from one workshop across the lane to the engine workshop…they were quite happy with what they had…but, more importantly they defiantly didn’t want to hear certain things…).

    It’s one thing to have a triple bottom line – but there’s no reason to believe a small one is superior to a large one.

    We may just have to agree to differ.

  • Remember when you were a kid and you just had to have the last word????

    Yep we’ll agree to disagree

    Cheers!

  • Software developers are not interchangeable. Having a small team that works well will be 10 times as productive as a cheaper team that doesn’t.

    Having a dysfunctional team would be fatal.

    For me, relative costs of development doesn’t factor into thinking. It’s all about having a productive team.

  • Agreed Rod – sometimes a locally based team is more productive.

    And by extension David, sometimes having people sewing stuff in factories in New Zealand is the best option as well.

  • The conversation seems to be meandering – not a bad thing – but Rod’s remark, whilst it makes sense is not quite on topic.

    But I’m game:…

    There are plenty who believe that connecting the best talent from around the world is a superior methodology to progress. It questions what constitutes a team – being in the same room?

    “Open sopurse innovation is re-shaping the logic of creativity in countless fields, from software and the INternet topharmaceuticals and the arts. But applying the outside-in mind-set of open source means abandoning familiar assumptions about where great ideas come from, who gets to be part of your company, and how to inspire the best contributions from them”
    Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Winby William C Taylor and Polly LaBarre.

    But maybe that’s a whole other conversation?

    We live in interesting times (which reminds me of an ancient curse…)

    😉

Leave a Reply