A last-of-its-kind Victorian small business that has been running for more than 80 years has seen a rallying of support on social media after a customer posted about the business’ dire future.
Specialty Pleaters is a fabric stylist in Williamstown North in Melbourne, which specialises in the pleating style commonly seen on female school uniforms. The business is the last one of its kind in Victoria, and one of only two pleat makers in Australia.
Bespoke fashion designer Kara Baker took to Facebook to ask for community help, saying “we are about to lose the last pleating business in Victoria”.
“Specialty Pleaters is the only surviving pleating business in the state, the second to last one closed last year. There are no pleaters left in New Zealand, none in South Africa (population 52 million); in fact there are only a handful left globally,” Baker wrote.
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“This creative art form in the fashion sector is in danger of being lost forever.”
Owner of Speciality Pleaters Simon Zdraveski told SmartCompany he hopes residents of the “world’s most liveable city” will want to support a pleating business, and noted the only similar business in New South Wales is also struggling.
“They’re in a similar boat to us right now,” Zdraveski says.
Zdraveski became the owner of Specialty Pleaters in December last year, taking ownership because the business was “about to be scrapped”. The original owners began the business in the 1930s, when it then operated out of Fitzroy.
“I think it was really at its height between the 50s and 70s, so it’s been a while since business was really booming,” he says.
It’s hard to pinpoint one defining factor for the businesses decline, Zdraveski says, but he attributes it to a general lack of interest in the industry.
“It’s one of those perfect storms, where everything is going downhill for a number of reasons. There’s a lack of appetite for high-end fashion in Australia, and rising rent prices and labour rates make it difficult too,” he says.
A lack of skilled designers in the industry is also a factor, as Zdraveski says fewer and fewer people are interested in specialty fashion.
“We had a client come in and look to get pintucking done, and Opera Australia wanted someone to do beading. They had to go to LA to find a designer,” Zdraveski says.
Baker attributed the lack of interest in pleating to schools across the country abandoning the style in uniform skirts. Zdraveski agrees, saying the move to non-pleated uniforms in public schools has affected the business.
Baker and Zdraveski have organised RMIT fashion students to visit the business next week to hopefully inspire a love for the pleating art. Zdraveski welcomes the visit, but wishes the style was included in tertiary curriculum for designers.
“These visits should have been happening over the past years, and pleating should be incumbent in all fashion schools,” he says.
“At the moment it’s only a subject because one of the lecturers there has an interest, I think they should be doing a semester course at least.”
Pleating is currently a popular fashion trend, with trendy fashion brand Gorman featuring a number of pleated skirts in its latest range. However, companies are choosing to internalise their fabric styling, with Baker pointing out “Chanel bought one of the last pleating businesses in Paris to guarantee production.”
Zdraveski calls pleats the “high point of couture,” and questions the nation’s desire for high quality fashion, saying the market thinks pleats are “old hat”.
When it comes to solutions, Zdraveski believes a wave of interest from individual smaller designers would bring the best results, but acknowledges his business will never return to the high volume days.
“There’s not much government support for these sorts of artisan industries, all the grants are going to new high tech industries. At the end of the day, pleating is an integral part of fashion,” Zdraveski says.
“The community response suggests that people want a specialty pleater in Melbourne, but it’s how to convert a ‘yes’ into a viable and sustainable business.
“All we can really do is try, and some things are just like the Tassie Tiger – they become extinct.”