Poster firm for Kiwi made set to go offshore

Norsewear, the poster company behind the Greens' Buy Kiwi Made campaign, looks set to be made overseas.

The brand has been sold to Apparel Brands, owned by Auckland entrepreneur Ben Nathan. The six stores have been sold and the factories that employ 60 people in Norsewood and Wanganui are looking for buyers.

Norsewear staff in Norsewood were told yesterday that there was a chance the company's socks would still be made in Norsewood, with two potential buyers in the pipeline. It is unclear where the rest of the company's apparel would be made, but China is the obvious destination.

Norsewear was held up by Green MP Sue Bradford as a prime example of how a manufacturing company could succeed without going overseas.

Ms Bradford said it would be an absolute tragedy if the company moved production abroad.

"They are champions of New Zealand manufacturing, and I hope for the sake of the workers and the company that they decide to keep production in New Zealand."

Former Norsewear chief executive Robert Linterman, who left the company in June, was a keen proponent of applying the Buy Kiwi Made label only to products produced here.

Yesterday, he said he was not surprised the company had been sold, but was disappointed the brand might be made overseas.

" I think Norsewear had significant market advantage domestically and internationally by being made in New Zealand. Lots of other companies have taken their product offshore and have suffered quality issues as a result. That was one of the things I was very conscious of."

Swazi, which last year combined with Norsewear to open five Norsewear-Swazi stores, would now revisit the arrangement, founder Davey Hughes said.

"The whole reason we went into the venture was because there was such a synergy between 100 per cent New Zealand made brands.

"In all honesty, recent events would start to cast a shadow on our credibility. It's going to have some effect on the relationship."

Ian Dickson of Burleigh Evett Investments, which owned 94 per cent of Norsewear, met 26 irate staff in Norsewood yesterday.

He said the futures of the Norsewood factory and the Wanganui manufacturing plant, which employs 22 people, were uncertain and redundancies would probably be announced next week.

National Distribution Union organiser Dion Martin said the workers were furious when Mr Dickson met them yesterday.

"They felt really good about working for a 100 per cent pure New Zealand brand and that's just been ditched."

The Dominion Post understands a group of Labour MPs was due to visit the Norsewood plant yesterday, but had been advised against it by management last month.