Owner and general manager of Soma, Harold Trigg is determined the Hastings manufacturing plant will be "the last man standing".

Soma was started by Trigg's grandfather, Stan Amos, in Wellington in 1928 as a hosiery and underwear importer (the company's name is Amos spelled backwards).

Amos, a Wellington city councillor, was a forward-thinking man and his company boomed, thanks in large part to his charisma and business nous, but also because he established a contract to make Haines underwear in his New Zealand factories in 1954.

At its peak in the 1960s the company employed more than 500 people in factories in Kilbirnie, Kent Terrace, Hastings, Levin, Otaki, Waipukurau and Masterton.

"We colonised the lower half of the North Island," said Trigg, who took over the company in the 1980s after rising through the ranks after starting in the knitting factory in Masterton.

In 1988, the company's headquarters moved to Hastings and the other factories closed.

In 1999, Trigg ended the four-decade contract with Haines.

"We told Haines it was a waste of time once parallel importing came in. There was no protection left. We dedicated ourselves to manufacturing onshore with people who wanted stuff made here," he says.

Then in 2001 along came Jeremy Moon and his Icebreaker range of merino clothing.

Icebreaker's success revitalised the company and it began attracting other brands keen to enter the merino market.

When Icebreaker moved its manufacturing to China in 2007 Soma had enough clients to keep it ticking over. Clients have come and gone over the years.

Kathmandu, Swanndri, Norsewear and Liberty have had gear made at the plant before moving offshore.

"Every few years a major client fell off the end. At the moment we are getting a whole raft of new people as other factories close. In the past two years about 15 clothing plants have gone to the wall. Our goal is to be the last man standing."

The huge plant on the outskirts of Hastings is bustling with dozens of workers stitching, cutting and sewing material. Orderly piles of garments lie throughout. Merino, polypropylene, cotton, fleece, laminated materials. There are designer labels, outdoor wear, cloth nappies, shearer's singlets, all destined for markets around the world. Most will be sold online.

Turnover ranges between $1 million and $2m (from a peak of $12m with the Haines contract).

"It has been a tough year. I think there are going to be some interesting collapses in retail. There are a lot of shops in sale mode. It's the affluent who have stopped buying."

Soma makes clothing for 30 to 40 different brands with orders from the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and Britain.

"They're niche orders. What we offer is `design and build'. People come to us telling us what they want. We help develop it and get it to market," Trigg says.

"We're doing more export now than we've ever done. Our strength is that we can make small batches. In China you probably have to make 1000 items minimum. Chinese companies don't want to make just 50 garments," he said.

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