Address: 154 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056
Phone: (03) 9388 5444
From a conversation with Dean & Morre that has been edited.
(Morre) We started in an old factory in Rathdowne St, North Carlton.
A lot of the Italians and Greeks used to come for sewing material, and the factory stored textile waste and offcuts from manufacturers. I think it was the first factory outlet in Melbourne.
In the mid-80s the wholesale business grew substantially, and it ran out of five different warehouses. We consolidated and moved to Brunswick Rd, where we worked out of a huge building.
Then we downsized and moved to a smaller place in Brunswick before coming here about 10 years ago. Originally, this warehouse was the Victorian Safe Company. There are safes within safes here.
When we purchased it, the warehouse was being used as an industrial metal fabrication and engineering plant.
(Dean) Morre left school at 15 to help his father Harry who started the business.
I remember growing up, coming to the factory and there were bales of off-cuts everywhere. I also remember falling asleep in the remnant bins. I’m sure that the other kids who did this over the years are now coming into the shop as adults.
I’m third generation, and I joined the business in the 80’s after travelling, dropping out of Uni and all of that sort of stuff. I worked in every area of the business trying to learn all the different parts of it.
Once I joined, I never left.
(Morre) The market store owners used to come in and buy remnants from us.
When we got the waste it would sometimes be a metre, or a metre and a half. We’d pull it out, put it aside and they would buy it.
“Maybe there is something here,” we thought.
So we went to the factories, and I started buying the cabbage, as I used to call it.
Being in the waste game, I’d sort through the rubbish. We were an old-fashioned schmutter business, and the Jewish community was close.
Everyone knew everyone and word got around, but I never thought it would become this big.
We used to be known as Rathdowne Remnants because it was just about the off-cuts.
But, when we got the rolls of fabric in, we changed it to Rathdowne Fabric and Remnants. We still have these remnant bins.
You can have fabric that won’t sell but when you cut it up and put it in the bin, it’s gone the next day. It’s the mentality of bargain shopping that make these bins so popular, and we have to replenish them every day.
Our customer demographic is home sewers, young parents who make things for their kids, students from fashion and design schools and busses of sewing groups that come in from the country.
A lot of men come through as well.
It’s a niche little market and – because the name is so well known – people come from everywhere.
The industry has changed so much over the years.
All these companies used to have thousands of metres left over at the end of the season. And – when there was volume production on shore – you could walk out of a meeting and buy 100,000 metres.
But in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, all the clothing production went overseas. There was less fabric here, and the flow on effect was that all of the suppliers had no one to sell to, so they dwindled and went away.
However, we still get calls from manufacturers saying they have a stock of fabrics left over. Even though their production is overseas, we have such good relationships with these companies that they’ll supply us.
A lot of these designers import their own fabric and designs, which will end up in our shop.
So we have fabric that isn’t available anywhere else.
All five seasons of Project Runway Australia were shot here.
For every challenge they would come in, run around like crazy and get the material. We’d give vouchers to all the customers so they could get coffee and cake around the corner while they were shooting.
One of the contestants from Project Runway showed us a photo of a shop overseas that featured old sewing machines. I really liked the aesthetic so – for the last five of six years – we’ve been collecting and presenting older sewing machines.
It touches people emotionally, brings back memories and everyone has a story.
“My grandmother used to have one like that.”
(Dean) I got involved in street art many years ago.
I met some street artists and said to them, “we’ve got walls here, you can come and paint them legally.”
Slowly, a few pieces came along.
One Monday morning I rocked up and there were six large murals along the back of the factory.
I thought, “dad is going to have my balls.”
I nervously tiptoed in and he said, “I love it!”
This was about five years ago, when there was nothing but old red brick walls.
Now the back of the factory and the surrounding factories and laneways are full of bright artwork.
This spot is an attraction for many street art lovers.
Sometimes street art is painted over.
It’s part of the ephemeral nature of street art. It’s not here forever and – if it always remained the same – it’d be boring.
You fall in love with some pieces but, once someone tags over it, it’s time for something new and fresh.
And what was good about the karma sutra burger is that it spread the shop name all around the world.
It had a lot of positive messages – multiculturalism and safe sex practices – that came with it.
Everyone in the mural is treated equally, like meat in the burger.
Regarding the textile industry in Australia, I like to say that the cake is a lot smaller and less people are taking a slice.
For the people still in it, there’s not as much business as there used to be. You always hear about manufacturing industry coming back, and about that swing back to local manufacturing but – when I’m sitting on half a million metres – I need that volume to happen.
However we still have all of these niche markets who are buying fabric for their online business. All of these crafty markets are everywhere, and we’re here to supply them.
So our plan for the future is to keep evolving and to keep the business going.
Written by Aron Lewin, all photos by Tatiana C C Scott.
Featured Image – Geisha by Hush, Heart by Jimmy C, Balaclava by Will Coles & Owl by Dscreet.