Escalating costs leads fashion stores to look for foreign sources


Irish clothing chainstores are increasingly carrying non-Irish goods - even among their own-label brands. The cost of manufacturing in the State, which has led to a series of factory closures in recent years, has meant that retailers source goods elsewhere.

The introduction of a national minimum wage later this year is expected to further exacerbate the problem, as more Irish clothes manufacturers are likely to find they cannot compete with the low prices available elsewhere. The most common place of origin for clothing today is south-east Asia. In Britain, considerable publicity has been given to conditions in Asian factories, where the workers' very low wages often bear no relation to the prices eventually charged in European shops.

Some of the world's most successful leisurewear brands have been accused of making large profits by exploiting what are often sweatshops in Asian countries. A quick examination of an item's label will indicate where it has been made, although obviously not under what conditions. What soon becomes apparent is that a lot of Irish chains no longer sell many clothes produced in this country. The principal chains show various degrees of willingness to divulge where they source and buy the goods carrying their name. A Dunnes Stores spokesman, for example, said he was "not able to disclose any information on this subject" and would not comment further.

Aine McDonnell, the main buyer for Sasha, was more forthcoming, perhaps because this chain has always promoted itself as being a supporter of Irish-made goods. While the cloth for garments may come from overseas, Ms McDonnell said, on average, at least 60 per cent of Sasha's clothing has been produced in Ireland. At times, this can go up to 80 per cent. Sasha has its own in-house design team that liaises closely with Irish manufacturers. "We've built up very good relationships with factories here," said Aine McDonnell, "and manufacturers would actually come to us for their customer base."

Sasha sources other clothing from elsewhere in Europe, and not from the Far East, insisted Ms McDonnell. However, she conceded that since the garments are bought from European merchants, she could not always be certain of their country of origin. At A Wear, Annmarie Flood said her company sourced some clothing in south-east Asia; the figure can be up to 40 per cent at times. Most factories used by A Wear are sited in Hong Kong and, said Ms Flood, "we make a point of visiting every factory we place an order with. Everything has to be above board and sometimes we change our itinerary so that we can call into the factory unexpectedly".

The majority of A Wear's goods are sourced in Britain, where the company works with a large number of factories. The company's stores usually get three deliveries every week and "we couldn't keep that pace if we were buying in the Far East". The advantage of using British manufacturers is that they can meet repeat orders speedily because, said Ms Flood, "if something is selling well, we need more within a week, not in four or five weeks' time".

Meanwhile, a Penneys spokeswoman said the company was "fairly cagey about where we source our suppliers. Ireland is such a small market that we don't want our competitors to know where we buy". However, she said the company's buyers were "constantly travelling and try to keep up with the latest trends". The company was "very careful" where its products were made and had taken on board recent reports of Asian sweatshops in which clothing was manufactured under inhumane conditions.