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Business Is Boring #22 – Murray Crane on making clothes and surviving the New Zealand market

‘Business is Boring’ is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt.

Fashion is a notoriously hard business, especially fashion made in New Zealand. With big retailers like TopShop setting up here, the internet making every brand in the world your competitor and the high cost of paying people in New Zealand non-slave wages; well, you have to be a pretty special operator to make things thrive. This is exactly what our guest, Murray Crane, has done over the last twenty or so years.

Host and interview guest caught in a web of fear created by intense staff photograpgher

Host and interview guest caught in a web of fear created by intense staff photographer

Murray’s tailoring and menswear store, Crane Brothers, has operations in Auckland, Wellington and Sydney. His Gubb & Mackie line makes men’s clothes here that foot it with anything internationally.

And while other brands have gone overseas to lower their costs, his off shore operations are in Italy. He joined me in the Spinoff recording bunker for a chat about not doing what everyone else does.

Either download (right click to save), have a listen below, subscribe through iTunes or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

So you’re bringing in more cloth from Italy and some of your operations are there?

Yeah. I mean there’s a two-pronged reason for that. One reason is that Italy has been over the last ten years investing a lot. They’ve identified that they need to protect their industries and nurture them. So the factories, makers and suppliers that we’re working with in Italy are all rejuvenating their workforce by creating training and schools for younger people to come into the industry and learn how it works. Which is quite different to here really.

You have more of a network of family-owned businesses there, small to medium-sized businesses that have been pretty much doing what they do for the last 40, 50, 60 years. A lot of them set up after the war. And now they’re kind of building schools, they’ve got the old guys working with them, teaching new people those same skills. Which to me is really interesting.

But more than that I think that, you know, over the last 30 years I’ve been working in the industry, Italy is always kind of represented the pinnacle of men’s fashion in terms of quality and design. So it was always my desire to create a product that worked on global scale and had a global standard about it. And I felt that we were – we needed to make that move if we wanted to continue to evolve and develop what we were doing.

The government coming into to help rejuvenate an industry works in a place that’s internationally renowned for being the face of fashion. NZ – even though we do have quite a storied fashion history – little pockets of things. It’s not known for being an international fashion destination. 

No, not from a manufacturing point of view. I think there’s some people here doing some really good things. And there’s one great industries here. Where we’ve let it go a little bit is around the primary industries like leather and wool. We’re not devoting enough investment into finishing those products and exporting them as a finished product.

Like the cashmere that’s grown in Tolaga Bay and sent off to Italy to get milled. Or the merino wool.

Yep, same as Escorial, or napo, or deer skin. The list goes on. These materials ate used by all the top brands all over the world, and it’s basically being exported in its rawest, bluest form.

No value add.

No, hardly at all. So that’s disappointing, and maybe that can change if you look at what’s happening in horticulture. But I think in terms of a manufacturing history…we’re pretty much…it’s pretty much gone now. And I think we need to be investing in ideas and maybe more in primary industries and looking more into how we can add value to the wool, to the leather. There’s a bigger opportunity there. Or maybe focus on core industries that work that feed off that, like knitwear manufacturing.

Merino being a really obvious space where we could become a worldwide name.

Merino’s kind of been killed as a brand because it’s so readily available. I mean, there’s good brands that do use it, like John Smedley would be a good example. Or Joshua Ellis. A lot of the big Italian weaving companies – Zenga, Canali – are using NZ wool. We’re just not getting any of the value out of it.

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