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How I make uniforms for Aussie frontline workers

Kerry Hodges has worked at the Australian Defence Apparel Bendigo facility for 32 years, starting as a sewing machine operator and now as the manager. Her long tenure is attributed to her pride in producing uniforms that help protect Australian Defence Force personnel. Kerry is passionate about local manufacturing and maintaining a highly skilled and engaged Australian workforce. Her dedication has ensured the continued success of the Bendigo facility in the face of competition from offshore suppliers. Here, she speaks with The Weekend Bulletin about what makes her tick.

Q: Tell me a little bit about you. You started at the ADA Bendigo Factory as a sewing machinist?

I have been in the clothing industry - I like to call it the rag trade -  for 45 years. I started as a sewing machinist with ADA in 1988 (or as it was known the Australian Government Clothing Factory) in a very small building as a pilot factory. I learnt to use many types of equipment, then I moved into quality, supervising, training and later to my current role of Factory Manager.

Q: What does your factory do and who does it provide uniforms for?

The factory makes protective apparel for many services and businesses throughout Australia and beyond. Some of the customers we provide uniforms to are the Australian Defence Force, New Zealand Defence Force, New South Wales Health, Victorian Ambulance, Victorian Police, NSW Police, QLD Fire and Emergency Services, QLD Police, WA Fire and Emergency Services, Victoria Country Fire Authority, Victoria Country Fire volunteers and more. This is just naming a few!

Q: Is it hard to make uniforms for all different shapes and sizes?

Once our design team receives the fittings and patterns, they send them to the customer satisfaction team where any issues will then be smoothed out. It’s a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together… we have a group of people we work with and a variety of fabrics. Some of the fabrics require specialised equipment to sew them, so sizing and custom fitting is never an issue.

Q: How have uniforms changed since you started 32 years ago?

It’s a totally different environment from when I first started. Back then, the consumer/user had no choice in their selection of fabrics and fit. The limited offerings provided were an off-the-shelf, “one-solution for all” with a “take it or leave it” approach. Now, the industry responds to what is right for the user/consumer and we help with providing solutions to suit the environment or theatre our clients work in, including specialised fabrics, comfort fits, breathability, performance, durability and more.

Q: How has manufacturing changed since you started 32 years ago?

Manufacturing has changed vastly over 30+ years. The equipment I first used was very different to what it is now and everything was a manual process including a back tack and a cut off. Now, the equipment we purchase is automatic including the bac ktack and cut off… which is great for accuracy! We also work with robotics, automation, heat sealing and auto cut-off equipment. In the cutting area there used to be a team of people (which could be up to 20 team members) who used hand cutters only. Our company was one of the first in Australia to invest in automation for cutting and this led to accuracy, precision, reliability and assisted in expanding its staff skillsets.

Q: How does it feel knowing you are in a job supporting the ADF?

I feel extremely humbled and proud to know that I am contributing to our frontline workers. They deserve the best quality and I love being a part of the process to deliver it! I am very proud of the quality of the work we produce out of the factory as ADF products are comfortable, functional and fit-for-purpose no matter what environment our client is in.

Q: Can you tell me: what you are reading now?

James Patterson – Along Came A Spider. I love a good murder mystery.

Q Your Favourite movie?

Forrest Gump has to be my all-time favourite.

Q And what's your favourite weekend activity

I have a three-year-old grandson, so I love spending quality time with him. We love visiting the playground and checking out new playgrounds in the area.


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