Where are our riding pants made?
Often, we are asked, "Where are your riding pants made?"
There is no one answer. They are 'made' in several places.
The process is spread over several stages and takes place in as many countries:
4. Sampling – several parts to this one
Sure, not everything happens in Australia, but there is always a good reason for that. We'll explain. Get a cuppa; this will take a while...
This one is easy. We put on some pants (or a jacket, a vest, a shirt, whatever) and get going on a horse. Swim in the river, go up the high country, ride down the beach, sit in the truck for 14 hours straight, stop off at Aldi to buy drinkies on the way home…you know the sort of thing. This is R&D for us. Not too shabby, eh?
Step one: here in Beechworth, in our design room on a big table, we sketch the ideas for each garment, working out what we need (the form) versus what we simply want (the function). Often we receive input from our dedicated fan base on social media. Comments like: 'Please make a pair of riding jeans with a phone pocket' or 'Can we have a style of riding pants with a higher waist' and so on. Sometimes we just have a couple of new ideas for a riding pant design that we feel is worth pursuing. Quality of make, originality of design and comfort are our guiding principles.
Sometimes it's simply a feeling, "I LOVE this!" (a colour, a shape, a 'look') that comes from our designer. We then discuss the features of the new riding jeans or riding pants so that they're functional as well as gorgeous and desirable.
Step two: right, we've settled on a concept. Let's get started. Off to the drawing-room we chuff to begin drafting the first pattern (sometimes the first of many). From scratch. Sometimes a new design is based on an existing TukTuk riding pant design which means we can use it as a basic block, which we amend into a new style.
Lots of technical stuff (finicky, picky, teeny weeny measurements and Bezier curves).
Many sheets of bridal paper, rolls of sticky tape and sharpened pencils later, we make the first toile from calico. Then we repeat, and repeat and repeat, till the form looks right and fits our house model.
Sampling (fiddly stuff, lots of detail)
Our sample machinist (in Yackandandah) makes two versions of our sample. One we keep, the other is sent to our Industrial Pattern maker in Brighton, Victoria, to be finished into a 'make ready' pattern for the factory.
After that, the patterns and our first samples are sent to whichever maker is responsible for that style. They produce a first counter sample from our patterns. We may also test a couple of alternative fabrics at this stage: stretch cord or new deni, or whatever may be a better or different option for this particular style.
Remember, the devil is in the detail, after all. Only once we are really happy with the design and pre-production samples, then we grade the patterns into different sizes. They are not just 'blown up' in a uniform way. There is a complex formula to calculate which bits get bigger and by how much, and which bits don't so much.
Our riding pants and riding jeans are cut and sewn in India, as they have been since TukTuk began in 1997. In many cases, we are using the same makers as when we started. In a couple of factories, the children of the original owners have now taken over the businesses.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, the four-way-stretch fabric is on its way.
TukTuk fabric is woven and dyed to our specifications (95% Cotton+5% Spandex woven as four-way-stretch) in Turkey, India or China.
You may ask why not in Australia? The answer is simple: there are no suitable weavers in Australia anymore.
That's the factual process stuff, but enough of that. It's not only about where our riding pants are made but why we do it this way.
To give you a real-life example of how it all comes together. The riding pant style we currently have under development is a hybrid of a couple of previous riding jeans styles. We have added thigh phone pockets but chosen not to go with a zip. Why? We tested both versions and found a zip will not allow any stretch over your thigh - just one example of why we do the things we do instead of just copying what's in the market. We also moved a seam, so there is no inner leg seam. Because our riding pants are purpose constructed for spending many hours in the saddle. We added some gorgeous design details for the hem. Just because we can and because we like a distinct look, rather than a generic, bland one.
In this case, we used the patterns of previous riding pant styles – we know they fit! We added changes to the original patterns according to the new style specifications, evolving it into a new style.
Before our fabric is woven to our specification, the yarn is dyed to our colours. The dyed yarn is then woven into a four-way stretch fabric.
Dying of fabric is an art. The process comprises a series of steps. First, we select a colour we think might work. Then we get several 'lab dibs' done. After seeing it on the actual cloth and, if we still like it, we finally approve the colour. This can take weeks and sometimes months.
You may ask why we don't source the fabric in Australia. The answer is simple: there are no suitable fabric manufacturers in Australia anymore.
Once the fabric arrives at our manufacturers in India, it is laid out on large cutting tables. The various panels and pieces of cloth that later make the riding pants are cut using our patterns. From there, all the parts are sewn together, trims added, then ironed and packed. There is a rigorous quality control process applied at all stages of making the riding pants.
We work with a couple of Indian manufacturers (and have been working with them since 1997). Over the years and, after trying out many others in India, Turkey and China, we've found that the manufactures we work with meet our high quality and finish standards. They are reliable and are good to work with, and they look after their employees and pay them fair wages.
Could we have our riding pants manufactured in Australia? Most probably. However, they are quite a technical garment to manufacture. Our four-way stretch fabric requires specialized machinery to make and highly skilled machinists.
The higher cost of employment, real estate values, etc. are contributing factors to making manufacturing in Australia costly. Even if we did not apply standard retail margins (which we have to; otherwise, we won't survive), it would make the riding pants come with a hefty price tag. That's just the reality of how the world works - not our choice.
We haven't tested acceptance of a more expensive price tier for "Australian made" in our customer base yet. It would be a risky move. Maybe once we are more established, we'll work up the courage...