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The fashion industry is notorious for reducing designers to tears and ending careers for the mere “crime” of choosing the wrong colour or look.
Clothing, textiles and apparel veteran Chris Dixon’s customers potentially face far worse. They can get shot at, stabbed, assaulted, must run into burning buildings and face the prospect of entering a real war zone.
And all the time they must be sensibly dressed in clothing that is comfortable and functional.
He’s proudly flying the flag for nation’s clothing sector, against conventional wisdom that Australian textile manufacturers moved offshore decades ago.
As the chief executive of Australian Defence Apparel, Mr Dixon runs a business that is more than 100 years old and which has played an integral role in the creation of Australian Defence Force uniforms and apparel. Not surprisingly khaki green is always the right colour.
And while Australia’s clothing and textiles manufacturing has shrunk, Mr Dixon’s factory in the regional Victorian town of Bendigo has built up annual turnover to more than $170m.
It has orders, not only from Australia’s army, navy and air force but from local emergency services and police departments – and now offshore orders too.
“It’s the largest textile facility remaining in country Australia. I think in short we’ve just been supported by many of our clients that still see the value of offering capability – particularly the ADF – and we are still making all of their operational clothing requirements, the combat uniform in country, both the manufacturing side and the raw materials,” Mr Dixon told The Weekend Australian from the recent Land Forces Expo in Brisbane, where his company was showcasing its latest designs, combat and clothing technology.
Australian Defence Apparel recently was awarded the Queensland Police contract for ballistic vests and armour, and there are orders for uniforms from Canadian and New Zealand defence forces.
“We have secured the entire clothing contract to the New Zealand Defence Force and went live with that contract in February, and that will see us build a brand new facility in Palmerston North in New Zealand,” he said.
“So I went from a couple of staff last year to some 50 staff over there (New Zealand) this year in the creation of ADA New Zealand – and it’s been quite nice to be working with some local New Zealand manufacturers and we’re running a bit of the New Zealand Defence Force requirements through the Bendigo facility.
“And equally, some of those New Zealand suppliers are supplying back into Australia in sort of a swap deal which has been fantastic. Fantastic news for them and for us.”
The demand for ADA’s specialist clothing which must be capable of withstanding fire, mud and even bullets – is not limited to the defence forces.
The client base spans military, healthcare, law enforcement, government, and corporate industries. As many as 450,000 personnel are eligible for uniforms produced by ADA’s factories.
The ADA facility can produce 600,000 garments a year and is supported by in-house design teams.
The importance and resilience of having a local manufacturing base was underlined through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic when local manufacturers – whether they produced jeans, skirts or army fatigues – faced stretched supply chains and uncertainties over shipments.
“Yes that was difficult – supply chain challenges and longer lead times and freight constrictions. But the (army) contract actually is the only one of its kind that requires everything to be procured, secured, manufactured (locally) right from the fabrics made in Wangaratta (Victoria) and we ship it across to Bendigo and manufacture there.
“So that part of it has allowed us to remain stable. And regarding those supply chain challenges, we’ve actually seen a nice resurgence to a local preference. Recently the CFA in Victoria introduced a volunteer uniform and similarly they have gone with a 100 per cent Australian-based solution using the same textile manufacturer in Wangaratta and having those goods manufactured in Bendigo.
“And I haven’t seen that kind of activity from a manufacturing standpoint for years and years, so it is nice. It is a romantic return.”
Mr Dixon said that control over manufacturing was highlighted during the pandemic and has helped win ADA the notice of local government agencies requiring uniforms.
ADA is now pivoting more towards law enforcement and first responders, such as police and fire.
“Certainly law enforcement and the first-responders sector – what we saw was an ability to leverage some of that defence heritage that we basically have known for 100 years. And it has really paid dividends,” Mr Dixon said.
Palmerston North's building its case as our Defence Force capital — along with nearby bases, it now has a new warehouse home to the nation's military uniforms.
All the kit a New Zealand soldier, sailor or aviator can wear or carry has started passing through Palmerston North’s newest distribution centre. ADA NZ’s leased warehouse near Milson Airport has been officially opened and is fully operational with room to grow the business.
Australian Defence Apparel (ADA) subsidiary ADA New Zealand announced it has opened its multi-function logistics hub in Palmerston North, New Zealand. The 3,000 square metre facility will serve as a hub for design and development, data-driven wearable systems, logistics, and warehousing, catering to the needs of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).
In a historic partnership between ADA NZ and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), a remarkable transformation in apparel systems for NZDF personnel is set in motion with the opening of the first refurbished store at Trentham Military Camp Clothing Store. This momentous event not only modernises the clothing management system but also elevates the operational readiness of NZDF
he Australian defence industry has paid tribute to defence personnel, frontline workers, and the efforts of Legacy Australia as the Legacy Centenary Torch Relay 2023 passes through Bendigo in Victoria.
The six-month Legacy Centenary Torch Relay travelled through Bendigo on Thursday, 21 September, with runners attending the Bendigo Legacy Club as one of the 45 Legacy Club locations on the journey before concluding in Melbourne on 13 October this year.