I read this morning about a New Zealand fashion brand that has been selling, for a number of years, tee shirts made in Bangladeshi sweat shops factories that have hangtags on them proudly stating “Made in New Zealand.”

Apparently, the owner of the brand justifies the statement, saying that since the hangtags themselves are made in New Zealand, there is nothing factually incorrect about the statement. The owner is (how ironically) a vociferous defender of New Zealand manufacturing, and has regularly chastised those who don’t meet her purported standards.

Welcome to the post-truth era.

Actually, it is a little complex. I’m a shareholder in Cactus Outdoor, a 25-year old company that manufactures backpacks and apparel here in New Zealand and sells it all around the world. All of our products are lovingly sewn in our own factory and other third-party factories here in New Zealand. We are proudly New Zealand owned and operated, and are proud that we keep many skilled people gainfully employed. Our customers love the fact that our products do what we say they will, and are happy to pay what are, to be fair, fairly high prices, in order to receive a product that will give them many, many years of dependable service. One-season fashion we certainly ain’t.

Alas, over the last couple of decades, the apparel industry in New Zealand has been decimated and, whereas in the past there used to be textile mills in every decent-sized town, today there are almost no fabrics (other than some Merino ones) made here in New Zealand. Cactus has no options, therefore, but to source some fabrics from overseas. The same goes for buckles and zips etc. So, yes, many of our raw materials come from outside of New Zealand.

But I reiterate, our products are made in New Zealand. We don’t import sewn tee shirts, sew a label on them locally and call that NZ made. We don’t try and get away with bunging a locally printed sticker on the hangtag and trying to suggest that makes the product NZ made. From our perspective, if you’re an apparel company and your product is sewn in New Zealand – you’re New Zealand made.

Many years ago, Icebreaker, a New Zealand based (although now owned in the US) apparel company famously moved its manufacturing from here to low-cost economies. The CEO of Icebreaker, Jeremy Moon, and I went head to head on National Radio arguing about the move. While I accepted that it was a move his business needed to make in order to scale massively, I had issues with what I saw was a somewhat duplicitous branding strategy which saw them massively leverage the New Zealand brand. I saw the potential for customers to be confused. But at least Icebreaker products clearly state where they’re made.

Same deal for Macpac, the venerable outdoor brand. When it made the move to offshore manufacturing and simultaneously bunged a map of New Zealand on every product, I saw potential confusion. I bemoaned the loss of an iconic brand and a change which saw it move from a massively authentic marque to one which was more about the idea of being in the outdoors, rather than the reality.

But while these two examples are, at least to a degree, slightly grey areas, the World example in the article above is most definitely not. L’estrange Corbet, World’s founder, has for years waxed poetic about New Zealand manufacturing, and harshly criticized others for moving offshore. All the while she has been duplicitously leading her customers astray.

Claiming that a hangtag that is printed in New Zealand justified an NZ-Made moniker is offensive to her customers, her competitors and the entire local business community. It is also, I believe, a very real breach of the Fair Trading Act and undoubtedly constitutes misleading and deceptive conduct.

While I totally disagree with L’estrange Corbet’s claim that World simply couldn’t make tee shirts in New Zealand (for the record, Cactus does without any problems), my biggest issue is with the lack of truth in what she tells her customers. Apparently, L’estrange Corbet thinks of her customers in the way McDonald’s thinks of theirs – as mere waiting mouths, to fill with products that satisfy a short-term whim, but leave no sense of being sated. Apparently, she has no respect for her customers or their belief about what her product is.

It’s a massive shame, and a sad reflection on this modern, post-truth era.

Luckily there are still brands that are prepared to be up-front and honest, and who are authentic to their ideals

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.

1 Comment
  • Very well said Ben.

    That is a real clanger by World! Marketing and branding is all about building trust over a long time and World have just blown it in short order!

    Definitely not the tall poppy syndrome too, but just very poor business acumen by an NZ company and it’s being called out. Well done “The Spinoff” for the investigation. More like that please.

    As the Oracle from Omaha is often quoted “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Maybe World should have thought about it 7 years ago and they could have done things differently. Too late now I suppose.

    In the typical Crisis Management process, World should have:
    1. Fessed up
    2. Apologised
    3. Committed to making it better
    4. Be open, honest and transparent

    Oh well too late for that now. Time for the PR company to step in and take over.

    [Plus that’s really interesting to see Hong Kong is no longer in China too – maybe Francis knows more than the rest of us] – WTAF..

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