Cactus Outdoor was the first outdoor apparel brand to have a website in 1995 and has been selling its gear online since then. In July this year, Cactus Outdoor bought out their manufacturer Albion Cactus Outdoor, bringing hope to the local apparel manufacturing industry. We talk to Ben Kepes, director of Cactus about the challenges faced with producing NZ-made apparel.
Ben Kepes says that Cactus’ customers are their friends, and with a close relationship, these customers inform the decisions that Cactus make.
We asked Ben for advice for newer brands in the apparel industry, and he says that at a base level, you’ve got to think about authenticity and bring that to your products. It’s easy these days to conjure up a brand out of thin air, but for that to have no real substance. Long-term, consumers want to connect with something real.
Turning to the challenges involved with domestically produced apparel, Ben acknowledges that it’s hard. It’s staggeringly more expensive to make products here than in Asia. He says it’s because we have “labour and environmental laws that protect our natural Taonga and our people, which is, obviously, a good thing.”
Ben also describes our apparel sector as being ‘decimated’ over the past few decades. Cactus is fortunate to employ refugees and immigrants with much-needed skills, and they’re looking at starting an academy to train more people as garment technicians.
Ben also notes the benefit of purchasing quality and sustainably-made clothing. Customers wear Cactus Outdoor apparel in the toughest jobs day in and day out, and they can’t believe how long it lasts. He says that consumers need to become more aware of the impacts of their purchasing choices. If you’re wearing a garment a few times then discarding it to the side, you’re an integral part of the fast-fashion problem.
It’s positive that Cactus is continuing to back apparel manufacturing in New Zealand. Could this be the start of a renaissance?