Production 101: Business in Bali

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Industry advisor Jacinta Richmond on what you need to know about manufacturing in Bali.

What was your first experience of Bali as a manufacturing destination?

The first trip to Bali was very much the way it used to be done. Meet a tailor, order your garments and have someone on the ground arrange to pay for them on completion and courier them to Australia. They either came to you or you met them in their lounge room, surrounded by cigarette smoke and no oxygen. However, what I noticed was that the tailor prices had jumped significantly and designers were paying them what would equate to the Australian RRP.

What are the major changes since then?

Changes have happened quickly in recent years. The better manufacturers are owned by Europeans and more often than not French expats. They have factories set up, staff who are well paid and work in clean environments. The staff are always happy, smiling and genuinely enjoying the opportunities.

In addition there are fabric printers who are leading the field internationally.

One in particular is a tightly held secret with no photography allowed in the plant. This is because his clients are those big European brands that we covet but can’t afford in our wardrobes. All of their digital printing is done in the one place and unless you have an excellent contact with an agent in Bali who has been on the island and in the industry for at least 15 years, you won’t get a look in.

The beauty of this printer is that they happily do small runs and you can even get the old school screen printing done.
Sadly I have also seen the dye houses.

With top couturiers and internationally recognised brands getting their fabrics dyed in Bali, very little has changed here except the amount of work they are getting. Toxic dyes running into the rain water drains and straight out to sea, fumes despite being outdoors.

The colours are intense and stunning but the worker skin is permanently dyed and you can see in their eyes the toxicity taking hold of their bodies.

Of course there are also those outskirt villages where you can still get incredible beading for next to nothing. Women young and very old on the roadsides beading jackets. That is then a conscious choice – to take the bargain or to show gratitude for what that handwork is worth.

What are the advantages there?

Pricing has increased, proximity is not that close unless you are flying of Perth but quality has certainly increased beyond measure in the last 5 years. The biggest advantage is the cost of living while designers are on the ground and the fact they claim the travel on tax.

What are the challenges?

There are many challenges with manufac turing in Bali.
Taxes are prohibitive if designers bring in their own fabrics yet the fabric choices on the island are very limited. In the past designers have brought their fabric in in their luggage where possible but that has recently changed. Luggage is now regularly and randomly being checked on arrival in Denpasar and I am aware of many designers losing a great deal of their fabric to customs.

The laws and regulations change often via Jakarta so what I say today can be completely different tomorrow – make sure you are on top of them.

With a truly multicultural heritage of religions, there is always a public holiday around the corner. The dates change like Easter changes here each year. You need to be aware of every religious holiday and how long it goes for. Most manufacturers and factories close down for every one of them. This can put your run months behind.

Always plan for six months earlier than you want your samples and final run.

What advice would you offer to designers?

Get an agent – a really good agent. Fluent in the language, lives in Bali full time and has done so for at least 15-20+ years. Make sure they also have a design background so they can check your samples. The best ones are European and they know everyone.

Are there other good destinations?

Always. India is very popular, as is Thailand and Vietnam. Some even travel to Cambodia.

The up and coming international country for manufacturing is Fiji. While in Australia, our own country is seeing the beginnings of a resurgence in manufacturing that we haven’t seen since the mid 1980s.

Australian consumers are aware and a very big shift is coming. The international market already appreciates Australian made for Australian labels. If you don’t consider Australian made you may just miss success.

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