Dave Giles-Kaye has spent his career in the fashion industry, including a five-year stint as CEO of the Australian Fashion Council. But it is in his latest role as co-CEO of Waverley Mills that he has gained a true appreciation for the manufacturing process. Waverley Mills is the last mill of its kind in Australia that can spin, weave and finish each textile on-site. But it’s not resting on its laurels. The business recently launched a collection of woollen throws that are made with 30 per
per cent recycled wool from offcuts that otherwise would have gone to landfill, and it aims to continue driving innovation in the growing local manufacturing movement. As the organisation gears up to celebrate 150 years in operation, we spoke to Giles-Kaye about his views on the challenges and opportunities in this space. Inside Retail: After working in the fashion industry for many years, you recently became co-CEO of one of Australia’s last remaining textile mills Waverley Mills. What drew you to take on this role? Dave Giles-Kaye: I love textiles and I love wool, so it was a no-brainer. Joining Waverley Mills was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring these two passions together. It is a privilege to work with an amazing group of textile experts at Waverley Mills, nurturing this unique manufacturer into a showcase of Australian wool, textiles, creativity, and sustainability. At Waverley, we are rejuvenating one of Australia’s oldest premium brands. Our blankets, throws, and scarves are amongst the very best in the world, and our connection back to the farm means we can source globally leading Tasmanian wool. What sets us apart isn’t only the quality of our products, but also our commitment to keeping the journey wholly Australian. Our fibre never leaves Australia through the process – from paddock to home. We partner with farmers, and from the sheep grazing in Tasmanian pastures, to every thread we knit and weave, ours is a unique and exciting story of a authentically Tasmanian product. Waverley Mills is the last of its type in Australia. We can take a bale of wool, spin it, weave it, dye it and finish it into a luxurious wool product, one that will be with the owner for decades and decades. And all this happens on-site here in Launceston. On top of this, we can recycle a used textile by turning it back into fibre, re-spinning and weaving it, and then creating a stunning new product from it. It is an amazing capability. IR: What is your overarching vision for Waverley Mills? And what are some of the biggest changes you’ve made since joining the company? DGK: Our vision at Waverley Mills is to provide warmth and comfort for our customers with our luxurious throws and blankets, as we have done over the last century and a half. To continue to serve our customers long into the future we are focused on three key areas: great design, natural materials, and authentic, sustainable practice. Developing close partnerships with farmers to strengthen our authentic, sustainable practices has been an exciting and considerable development for us. We are building a network of farmers, wool brokers and buyers to work with us to get the best wool possible for the products we make. We track this wool through all processes at the mill so that when the product goes out the door we know which farm that wool came from. We are also investing in our manufacturing capability here in Launceston. We are working through a huge upgrade of the mill buildings and equipment which has been designed to bring state-of-the-art equipment to the mill while maintaining and updating our older equipment. This is very exciting as it will bring new design opportunities so we can further improve our products . IR: Have you gained a deeper appreciation for the challenges (and opportunities) of local manufacturing since joining Waverley Mills? DGK: Manufacturing is incredibly rewarding, but it is also hard. Controlling all stages of the process means that we are responsible for everything. This means that as an organisation we have developed a culture of responsibility, resourcefulness, and creativity. Every day our team here is identifying and solving problems and coming up with ideas for improving our processes. One ongoing issue in textiles in Australia is finding people with skills. We are fortunate at Waverley Mills to have an incredibly skilful and expert team here, with experience going back over 30 years, but it is a challenge to find new people with expertise and experience. IR: There seems to be a lot of conflicting data about consumers’ willingness to support local manufacturing if there’s a price difference. What has your experience been? DGK: My experience is that people are not purchasing a Waverley Mills product just because it is made in Australia, but because it is a high quality product with a great story. And so much of what makes it a high quality product is our approach to the whole production process: design, sustainability, quality, durability. Waverley Mills products are an investment. We were recently sent a blanket that the NSW SES found in their stores that dated back to 1941. Our products become part of people’s family history. We also find that when people visit the mill they are blown away with the amount of work and care that goes into manufacturing each of our crafted products. IR: In your opinion, why should brands and consumers care about keeping textile manufacturing alive in Australia? DGK: If great design and sustainability are important to you then we need manufacturing in Australia. I have long believed that design and manufacturing go hand in hand. Part of achieving great design is understanding the way a product is made and learning from those who make it. In Australia, we have the best wool but if we don’t have organisations that know how to work with it then we are giving up so much. I also believe that sustainability and manufacturing go hand in hand. The organisation that controls the supply chain and making of a product has the greatest impact on its environmental and ethical impact.