Aussie defence clothier has the arms suitably covered

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.



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ADA supplies menstrual products for NZ Defence Force

Australian Defence Apparel New Zealand have celebrated a successful year working with NZ suppliers in providing menstruation products to the New Zealand Defence Force.

Soldiers in New Zealand were supplied period packs designed specifically to support field work and improve soldiers’ experience during their menstrual cycle while in the field.

ADA NZ which is a subsidiary of Australian Defence Apparel Australia, partnered with AWWA Period Care to produce sustainable period care products and donate profits to end period poverty in New Zealand.

ADA NZ research and development team program director Sarah Pender said the ADA NZ team sourced, supplied, evaluated and procured products to develop period packs for New Zealand Defence personnel.

“This is a positive change for soldiers who previously had no solution, as options were limited to single-use products or were difficult to dispose of while in combat,” Ms Pender said.

“We are proud to help create more inclusivity and to improve the mobility of personnel deployed on the field.

“This is another example of how ADA uses not only textiles and technology to protect our soldiers but is creative in addressing the range of needs for all who serve in the field.”

Made using eco-friendly and reusable products, the period packs include period briefs, reusable/washable pads, menstrual cups and wipes, and dry bags to protect and store the items in wet conditions.

ADA chief executive officer Chris Dixon said ADA supplies uniforms, ballistics and load carriage for military, police and healthcare organisations.

“It is projects such as this that evidence the diversity and evolution of ADA and reinforce our commitment to solving problems for our clients,” he said.

“We will continue to support local suppliers to promote sovereign and onshore capability and look forward to continuing these relationships,” Mr Dixon said.


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New Navy uniform a collaborative success

The rollout of Navy’s new maritime multi-patterned uniform (MMPU) has begun in the Sydney region.

The Australian-designed and manufactured uniforms have been a collaborative effort between Defence and industry and are already delivering significant benefits to Navy people both in shore-based positions and for those personnel serving at sea.

Director-General Navy Logistics, Commodore Nathan Robb, said the contribution of Australian industry had been critical to the development of the new uniform.

“This project has delivered significant benefits to Navy people, who have been a key contributor to the outcomes by way of testing and feedback in the design of the uniforms during the project,” Commodore Robb said.

“By listening to our people and working with industry, the uniform delivered is more lightweight, fit for Navy purpose and suitable for the range of conditions and environments our Navy operates in.

“The design and delivery of the MMPU is an excellent example of collaboration to deliver improved capability for our people and, beyond that, it is an Australian solution that provides resilience in supply chains and benefits local industry.”

The garments are manufactured in Australia by Australian Defence Apparel (ADA), based in Bendigo and Melbourne, Victoria, and Workwear Group in Melbourne using fabric manufactured by Bruck Textiles in Wangaratta, Victoria.

ADA’s Australian industry capability manager, David Frith, said ADA embraced the opportunity to be involved in the MMPU project to demonstrate Australian capability and to benefit ADF people.

“We designed this uniform in partnership with Defence, and we searched globally for the best fabric we could find, and then designed and tested solutions that met Navy’s requirements,” Mr Frith said.

“The result is a complete Australian solution, designed in-house at ADA in Victoria incorporating the latest research and development approaches to better solve things like the fire-retardant properties required for the at-sea version of the uniform.

“Our large research and development team and designers looked at trends and innovations globally to bring advanced solutions for the MMPU uniform.

“This project is evidence that Australian manufacturing can deliver and compete very strongly with the rest of the world.”

Bruck Textiles’s Group general manager, Vineet Dhawan, said the manufacture of the MMPU material in Australia showcased the ability to innovate and deliver capability in Australia.

“We are very proud to have produced this new, innovative, lightweight solution, which has made the shirt 25 percent lighter, the trousers 15 percent lighter, and has incorporated the fire-retardant properties within the fabric, not in addition to the fabric,” Mr Dhawan said.

“Being involved in this great project helps keep both industry and the capability sustainable.”

The new uniform has received positive feedback.

Able Seaman Shona Bartell said she loved the new MMPU.

“The MMPU is very breathable and light, and I don’t have to worry about taking off my jacket so much, especially when working in in warmer conditions,” Able Seaman Bartell said.

“The new positioning of the pockets and the better visibility of rank slides are also benefits.”

Initial rollout of the MMPU began in Darwin and Cairns in October last year, followed by Western Australia earlier this year.

The rollout of MMPU across Navy is scheduled to take place progressively across remaining states and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022.

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The future soldier reimagined through human-centred design.

The 2021 Land Forces Expo in Brisbane will display a complete suite of ADA’s apparel innovations in the Soldier Combat Ensemble sphere.

Building on ADA’s ethos of human-centred design, the group will demonstrate local capability with a cascade of uniforms, body armour and load carriage innovations researched and engineered in the past 24 months with a range of revolutionary products prototyped to validate proof of concept.

The show is led by the evolution of load carriage and the breakthrough in ergonomics, resulting in a future where crucial challenges faced by personnel are addressed, injuries minimised, unit agility maximised, and performance optimised. The 3-day event will be the first reveal of the full collection of the load carriage solutions built to conform to 24–120 hour operations.

The display will include interactive next-generation and future soldier apparel systems providing a glimpse into adaptive camouflage technologies, innovative hybrid textiles with cutting-edge uniforms and body armour systems powered by fabric pioneers, Polartec.

In addition, the show will comprise the first-ever female fit soldier combat ensemble engineered and body-mapped to work with the female-specific form
Furthermore, the presentation will entail a live human augmentation exoskeleton demonstration to see the wearable product in full motion. Plus, provide visitors with an opportunity to take a closer look at the future of uniform program management with the latest technology in digital and virtual fitting solutions and uniform stores.

Collectively, ADA plans to unify industry with academia from Bond University Tactical Research Unit led by Dr Rob Orr to spark innovation, and possibility, and further strengthen the trident approach to solving performance challenges in soldier systems.

ADA’s division LEGEAR will also co-host on the stand introducing the latest products in the tactical market. See firsthand the newest products from GHOSTHOOD® camouflage systems featuring the CONCAMO confusion camouflage pattern, Trango training Infrastructure solutions to build modular and realistic training environments for personnel and new arrivals from UF Pro Tactical Clothing.

Register for entry to Land Forces here.

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