A win-win deal created in Covid’s wake, and involving Kiwi farmers, government, and a Kaiwaka business, has seen hundreds of unemployed pulling on a pair of gumboots and stepping out into New Zealand’s countryside kitted out in locally made attire.
Long-running family business, Kaiwaka Clothing Co., linked up with Federated Farmers of New Zealand (FFNZ) and Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in 2020, to supply ‘Covid displaced’ new farm workers who sign up for the ‘Get Kiwis on Farm’ programme, with brand-new wet weather farm gear. To date, 300 individuals who were previously employed in a variety of industries such as hospitality, gyms, tourism and banking, have jumped on board the scheme with another 225 lined up for farm careers by June this year.
Designed last year after an ‘off-the-cuff phone call’ between FFNZ board member, dairy farmer Chris Lewis and ‘some rugby mates’ about agricultural unemployment, Get Kiwis on Farm links up an ‘intersection of interests’ between Kaiwaka Clothing (who were forced to consider the unpleasant reality of laying off staff due to Covid), farmers desperately needing workers, and MSD having to find jobs for the growing number of unemployed.
The Ministry of Social Development, Minister of Employment Hon Carmel Sepuloni, MSD staff and FFNZ members visited Kaiwaka Clothing on SH1 on January 28, to catch up with management and employees, and take a tour of the production line.
Kaiwaka Clothing business development manager Monty Stewart says the past year ‘hasn’t been easy’ and they are thankful for the MSD and FFNZ partnership as the farming programme means the company could take on more people instead of cutting jobs.
“We’ve been able to take on 16 new members with people applying from as far as Auckland to Kerikeri,” Monty says. “We’ve also started a nightshift, 4pm till midnight, at the beginning of the year as our infrastructure, machinery and space was at its max, and we’ve contracted two new teams of outworkers in Auckland to keep up with supply.”
For the last decade, the clothing company employed ten Christchurch staff as well as manufacture items in Vietnam to keep up with the UK demand for their label ‘which is growing by the day, they love New Zealand brands’. Monty’s cousin, Kaiwaka Clothing sales manager Harvey Stewart, says if the company could make all their product requirements in New Zealand to meet demand, they would.
“We are the ‘last man standing’ as far as outdoor wet weather apparel goes in New Zealand, as other manufacturers have shut their factories down and moved offshore. We’re really proud of that and trying our best to keep that happening… we’re very passionate about being NZ made.”
Being ‘NZ made’ was one of the reasons Kaiwaka Clothing was selected to supply the farming gear, FFNZ’s sales, marketing and general manager Tania Thomas says, along with employment possibilities and the Northland location.
“Kaiwaka Clothing was just the ideal brand fit,” she says. “I know there has been a massive shortage in the industry, an issue attracting people to farming, so having the right gear will make it a perfect start… it’s like skiing, if you haven’t got the right gear, you’ll be miserable.”
New farm workers, who are matched with FFNZ members and signed up to the organisation’s detailed employment contract, which also includes tenancy and ‘potentially a freezer full of meat’, are decked out in Kaiwaka Clothing’s quality brand, worth $1200 retail. Naturally, the gear has been well-received and appreciated by the wearers.
Available in two packs in both male and female fittings, items are specifically-designed for dairy or sheep, beef and arable farming, from wet weather gear to farm wear including thermals, oilskin vest, overalls, apron, milking sleeves, gumboots, rain jacket and even a helmet.
Get Kiwis on Farm is a critical part of MSD’s plan to help meet the immediate labour shortages in the rural and agriculture sectors, Hon Carmel Sepuloni says, as well as ‘go a long way to help future-proof our domestic labour market as we recover from Covid-19’.
“It was great to be able to visit Kaiwaka Clothing, and to see how the programme is delivering local employment opportunities both in Kaiwaka and nationally in the rural communities,” she says. “While Kaiwaka Clothing were initially looking to reduce staff following Covid lockdown, the fact that they’re now having to recruit additional staff to supply Federated Farmers is an encouraging reflection of the success of the flow-on benefits of Get Kiwis on Farm in our rural communities.”
‘Get Kiwis on Farm’ links an ‘intersection of interests’ between a trio of groups looking to help the ‘Covid-displaced’. Pictured from left, Kaiwaka Clothing business development manager Monty Stewart, sales rep Heike Duivestein, FFNZ marketing manager Tania Thomas, MSD national manager Grayson Zhang, MSD and Employment minister Hon Carmel Sepuloni, FFNZ Northland president John Blackwell, and board member, dairy farmer Chris Lewis, with Kaiwaka Clothing sales manager Harvey Stewart. PHOTO/JULIA WADE
“Kaiwaka Clothing was just the ideal brand fit.”
Tania Thomas, FFNZ