Buying Australian: why it's no longer a sign of parochialism | Kanebridge News
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Buying Australian: why it’s no longer a sign of parochialism

As the Australian made edition of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine hits stands this weekend, we examine the case for purchasing locally made product

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Jun 9, 2023 3:51pmGrey Clock 5 min

Mention Australian made products to family and friends and it’s likely everyone will agree it’s a good thing to do. 

Polling by Roy Morgan as recently as February this year shows 80 percent of shoppers consider buying Australian made products important, mainly because it supports local jobs and the wider economy. The survey also found that 67 percent of shoppers reported buying Australian-made products ‘often’ or ‘always’.

But while most of us are happy to buy, say, Australian made peanut butter or even skin care products, we’re less inclined to choose a locally crafted table over an imported product, mainly because of the price. 

Canberra-based craftsman Rolf Barfoed says COVID changed attitudes to buying local. With many working from home and borders closed to everyone and everything — including many goods manufactured offshore — Australians began to reassess their buying practices, as well as their domestic environments.

“We got quite busy after COVID struck because people were forced to look inwards and instead of going overseas on holiday, they had a bit of money to spend locally,” Barfoed says of his workshop where he manages a team of three. “There were a lot of people working from home and they were looking at their homes more critically.”

Desks and bookshelves were a popular choice, as many looked to properly furnish home offices, while beds and bedside tables also rated highly, providing a sense of sanctuary and comfort during uncertain times.

However, as restrictions lifted and with more people growing concerned about rising cost of living pressures, Barfoed says he has noticed a shift in buying patterns.

“Ever since the threat of recession, things have tightened up and sales have slowed,” he says.

For more stories like this, order your copy of the latest issue of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine here

While some may be put off by the higher costs — a reflection of higher wages being paid to Australian workers — Barfoed says the final price is just the start of the story. He gains most of his work from Sydney and Canberra via word-of-mouth commissions, allowing buyers to connect with their piece of furniture from the start. And some connections are stronger than others.

“In Canberra there is a pool in Manuka and there was a big oak tree over the pool which came down in a storm,” he says. “We had people who had swum in that pool as children who asked if we could make something out of the tree for them, so we created two dining tables. It helps that the timber miller is well connected in town and he has the means to pick up trees like that.”

Most timber, however, is sourced through more traditional avenues, although local timbers have been harder to find since the 2019/2020 bushfires. 

For those after something unique and fit for purpose though, the experience of commissioning from a local maker is unmatched.

“The option for customisation is a big factor and we will tailor it to exactly what the client wants,” Barfoed says. “It is always a nerve wracking experience handing over a piece of furniture. You want the client to be happy with your work.”

Kate Stokes, co-founder of award-winning Melbourne lighting and furniture studio Coco Flip says ‘locally made’ also means shorter lead times and more reliable supply chains for retailers, designers and homeowners.

“We have really good relationships with all our manufacturers which means there’s a lot more quality assurance,” she says. “If something goes wrong, you just send it back to us. You can’t do that so easily if it’s arrived by ship.”

While the products, which include their Coco pendant light, Mayu floor lamp and Sequence dining tables often do cost more upfront than imported items, Stokes says they are better financial investments over the long term.

“We want to design things that people are not going to tire of in five years so our designs are classic, contemporary and able to fit into a range of styles and interiors,” she says. “Construction has to be robust and material choices have to be solid and last a long time.

“We want people to love them for a long time.”

Stokes and co-founder Haslett Grounds also work with longstanding manufacturers such as Specialty Pleaters in Williamstown, which was founded in 1925 and is now the last remaining pleating studio in Melbourne.

“We love working with local manufacturers and Specialty Pleaters have been in business for about 100 years but they are potentially facing closure because production is increasingly going off shore,” Stokes says.

Australian furniture manufacturing legend, Tony Parker, of Parker Furniture fame says if Australians don’t support locally made furniture and homewares, they will cease to exist — and those traditional skills will all but vanish.

“When you buy locally made, the goods are also serviced in Australia and the infrastructure to manufacture is here,” Parker says. “You have apprenticeships for training people in cabinetwork, upholstery and other skilled trades.”

He laments what he sees as the decline in quality of mass produced goods flooding the Australian market from overseas, not just because it means jobs are taken offshore, but that buyers are not getting value for money.

Australian furniture legend Tony Parker laments the quality of furniture imported into Australia

“They have slowly eroded quality,” he says. “Everyone closes on price. In actual fact, people are paying more than they were in the 70s, relative to wages, and it was better made then.

“The retailer is looking for a cheaper price and the customer is not looking at quality.”

Fred Kimel, founder of Handkrafted, which connects Australian makers directly with the public, says buying locally is an investment in the future, in more ways than one.

“The result is (a piece) typically much higher quality than the vast majority of furniture that is manufactured overseas,” Kimel says. Locally made bespoke furniture is made-to-last and will retain value as it can always be sold or passed on — it’s far less likely to find its way into landfill.

“On the sustainability front, our local regulations help to ensure that timber used by local makers is forestry certified and not from unregulated or illegally logged forest timber.”

And if it’s that lovely rush of endorphins experienced when you buy that floats your boat, buying an Australian made product has to be the ultimate shopping high.

Craftsman Josh Pinkus in his Sydney workshop. His work is available through Handkrafted.

“Perhaps one of the biggest draw cards is simply the enjoyable process of working so closely with a local maker,” Kimel says. 

“Clients will often visit their workshops and take much more interest in the selection of raw materials, design decisions and production methods. It’s an experience that lives on through the product.”

Advance Australia fair, indeed.


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Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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UAE Initiates State-Owned EV Charging Initiative to Boost Electric Vehicle Acceptance

The United Arab Emirates is improving its electric vehicle infrastructure with a new government-owned EV charging network.

Wed, May 22, 2024 2 min

The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (MoEI) alongside Etihad Water and Electricity (Etihad WE) have collaborated to form UAEV, a new joint venture aimed at strengthening the electric vehicle (EV) charging framework throughout the UAE. This venture is the first EV charging network entirely owned by the government, aimed at broadening access to EV charging facilities across the country.

The project seeks to revolutionize the UAE’s transport sector by enabling broader adoption of EVs via a robust and widespread charging infrastructure. This initiative is expected to strengthen communities, generate employment, and promote eco-friendly transportation options.

Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, said: “UAEV embodies the power of partnership between government and industry, and aims to provide vital electric vehicle infrastructure to boost adoption of EVs, energize communities, and unleash the economic potential of the UAE.

“We hope that this partnership will further accelerate the transition to cleaner transportation and significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector, thereby helping to bring our Net Zero 2050 Strategy within reach.”

Sharif Al Olama, who has been appointed Chairman of UAEV, said: “In 2023, we saw a rise in EV adoption in the UAE. By expanding our EV infrastructure, we ensure the country is equipped to support those who have already purchased an EV and make the prospect of switching to EV attractive.

“Together, MoEI and Etihad WE form a powerful force that can help future-proof the UAE and achieve the twin objectives of economic growth and climate action, which underpin UAEV.”

The UAEV is also a perfect platform for Etihad WE, the largest employer in the Northern Emirates and a company with a customer base of over 2 million households, to use its core competency and enhance its product offering.

Yousif Ahmed Al Ali, CEO of Etihad Water and Electricity and Board Member of UAEV, explained: “It is part of a deliberate strategy to diversify our operations, using the knowledge and experience acquired from our role as long-standing pioneers in the energy sector, to explore new products, services, projects, and investments which will benefit our customers.

“UAEV charging infrastructure will contribute to the modernization of the UAE’s transport network, help energize communities by creating new jobs, and empower our customers to make more sustainable choices.”



Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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