Behind Noosa’s iconic wetsuit brand
BERNIE Filer pulls out a pair of sewing scissors and carefully cuts a wetsuit shape from rubber material.
For 34 years, the Noosa business owner has been handmaking wetsuits for surfing, wakeboarding and other water sports.
Every cut and stitch for his Zee and Moomba labels is done by local people, creating jobs in the community.
“Most of the time I am chained to the cutting table,” the 75-year-old sole business owner jokes.
“I do all the cutting and make all the patterns and keep the factory going.
“I employ a number of mostly women and we make everything in our factory here on the Sunshine Coast, employing Sunshine Coast people.
“We are one of only two or three that still manufacture in Australia.”
Mr Filer’s Zee Wetsuits store is celebrating 20 years in its current building in Noosaville.
The shop on Venture Drive stocks handmade wetsuits from kids size 1 all the way up to XXXXL, but they can also be custom made.
Mr Filer started crafting wetsuits 35 years ago in Torquay, Victoria, after earning his stripes in the “rag trade” and transitioning those skills to surf wear.
“Making a wetsuit is like making a suit or a shirt,” he explains.
“You draw the pattern, cut the material, use the sewing machine and put them together.”
He moved the business to Noosa -“lock, stock and barrel” – in 1996 in search of a lifestyle change.
Over the years he has remained true to the grassroots nature of surfing and water sports, despite the corporate takeovers that have seen brands bought by major companies and products manufactured overseas.
Mr Filer said wetsuits had undergone significant changes in the quality of rubber, with today’s crafted from the latest in ‘neoprene’ technology.
Feedback from surfers, including his two sons and two grandsons who surf, have helped evolve the outfits to suit the rigorous demands of the sport.
In the future, he can imagine further advancements in materials as new breakthroughs are made.
“We are constantly upgrading our technology so we always have the latest and best that is available,” he says.
Despite the laborious hours required to produce suits by hand, Mr Filer said his prices remained competitive because people were not being forced to pay for expensive branding and marketing.
“If the majors are selling a product for $400 or $500, we will be $200,” he explains.
“We don’t gouge. We make our suits look fabulous but others spend more on advertising.”
“We can’t go head-to-head on advertising but we can offer the best service, quality product, good technology.”