Friday, November 30, 2012

A Visit To The Shirt Factory That Time Forgot

This week I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of the Phillips Shirts factory in Melbourne. As a thank you to their volunteers, the tour was run by Melbourne Open House.

The Phillips Shirts business was started in the 1950s by friends Philip Phillips (!) and Alex Peterfreund, two Czechoslovakian immigrants who worked full time by day and made shirts by night.

Cutting out and sewing the shirts at their home – bachelor Philip lived with Alex and his wife and child throughout most of his life – their first big break came when a store in Tasmania placed an order for 800 shirts.

Apparently this caused some consternation for the duo – can you imagine an order of that size coming into your home-based business? Freak out… :0)

Luckily the store was so impressed by the style and quality of the shirts that they were prepared to accept part delivery and have more sent as they were made.

Thus, the business really began in earnest.

That one big order helped them to establish their first business premises at Little Bourke Street… many shirts and seven years of 18 hour days later and they moved to their current premises at 274 Lonsdale Street in the city.

Our tour started with a trip up the very funky, old-school red and black stairs to a small foyer where several old machines sit in pride of place along with some sterling examples of some ruffled, embroidered glories from, I’d guess, the 1970s.


This is exactly the kind of shirt my Dad wore to weddings in the ‘70s… except his frill was detachable :0)

From there it was onto the cutting desk – enough to make any sewist drool – where some fabric was laid out, ready for cutting… again the cutting tools and weights… drool…


The “everyday” cutter



The super-duper cut-through-a-foot-of-fabric cutter

As well as the table, the cutters, the weights and the WALL of stock…


…there was also some lovely moments that felt like eavesdropping and time-travelling at the same time.



And then we came to the rolls of fabric… or should I say rooms of rolls of fabric… or should I say rooms and halls of rolls of fabric…? Crazy!


Enough of that…


I said enough!


I loved this hidden shirt – traffic lights!

The place is amazing… it has such a sense of history about it – and the fact that it is still a working clothing factory in the heart of Melbourne city – BRILLIANT! There is so much… stuff!… crammed into this space that your imagination starts to get carried away with what could be in the boxes… we did hear a tale of a bunch of velour 1970s jackets in one section. Hipsters, take note!

I think I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking.


Kitchen / tearoom


The goods lift

Actually, one thing I will explain – this next picture was taken upside down and in the dark so I had to flip it and lighten it. It was on the inside of the goods lift door and the reason it tickled me was that my Dad and Uncle used to work at Lysaghts in the 1960s/’70s.




A selfie with Marybeth in the tearoom

For a while the third floor was sublet to a company called Bambury. Although their stock is gone, there are some small clues they were here…



Outside, the city is still there… inside, it’s 50 years ago

Then it is on to the retail shop on the second floor…



For when your shirt sleeves just have to match the drapes…




This tour was a great treat – for people who sew and those who just appreciate a good shirt or a family business.

The retail shop is open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 10:30am to 3:30pm or by appointment.

I loved it and will be back with some spendable cash in my pocket soon. :0)



  1. Wow - looks like a fabulous trip. I love seeing the old machines, such a treat. Were you allowed any 'souvenirs'?!

  2. Hi twotoast - no souvenirs... BUT, you could buy all you like in the store. :-)

  3. Looks like a awesome trip. This was really interesting to read, thank you so much for sharing with us!

  4. Thanks Fashion Online - glad you like.
    Lovely website you have - best of luck with your promotion of Australian designers! More power to you. :-)

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Great post online....looks like nice trip....