Wake Up Australia
This eye-catching sign at a recent craft event certainly attracted attention. ‘Passion killers’ are in the ‘Bridget Jones’ underwear category but there is clearly a demand for them and they have certainly stood the test of time – in fact Australian Knitting Mills have been making these warm, comfortable wool/cotton blend bloomers for at least 60 years. Let’s face it, when it’s cold, we love them! By Judy Newman
However, what does the future hold for one of Australia’s last remaining textile factories? Take a look at another eye-catching sign on the back of the exhibitor’s truck and it will give you a clear indication of the unhappy direction of textile manufacturers in Australia.
The sign says it all:
- · Australian Knitting Mills were established in 1900
- · In 1935 employed 1000 people
- · In 1974 were down to just 100 employees
- · In 2012, they only have a dozen left.
Australian Knitting Mills is one of the last remaining textile manufacturing companies with fine gauge circular knitting machines which produce tubular fabric. These ‘body-diameter machines’ can be set to produce circular seamless fabric – the kind used for singlets and other undergarments, in a diameter from 8 inches to 24 inches. The fabric has fantastic stretch and is created from the finest Australian wool, cotton and thermal yarn.
Throughout the years, the company has produced woollen swimsuits, long johns, and winter underwear; many styles like the bloomers are perennially popular and have remained unchanged for decades. At the Manly Art Gallery in NSW, a display of woollen swimwear from the 1940s comprises AKM garments.
I’m surprised to find that the wool/cotton blend used in the passion killer bloomers has been around since 1900. The product has stood the test of time.
However, whether the company will withstand current economic conditions in Australia remains to be seen. In recent times, like many iconic Australian brands, AKM has faced difficult challenges and the future is uncertain.
The current owner Rob Parker explains, “There are a number of challenges, first and foremost the labour laws. It’s hard to employ people and compete with conditions overseas; our wages are high and regulations are restrictive.”
“Plus, supplies of trimmings and haberdashery are difficult to source in Australia. And of course we are competing with imported products. Currently we have no orders so we are just making stock for when the weather becomes cold again next year,” Rob says.
The company began production in Richmond, Victoria in 1900 when some former employees of DW Murray decided to start their own factory. Rob Parker bought the business in 1974 and one employee who joined the company in 1950 is still with him; John Denton a mechanic, aged 80 years, still maintains the machines for Rob, some of which are 60 years old.
Over the years, Rob has also purchased a number of machines when other factories have gone out of business allowing him to also produce coats and other styles.
Expertise Events orders all our vests, jackets and other uniform garments from AKM because we love Australian-made and the quality is great. Rob confides that Gary (Fitz-Roy) MD of Expertise has been his main supporter, placing orders at times when he knew things were tough for AKM.
I can vouch for this, as Gary’s wardrobe contains one of almost every item AKM makes, our children have a lifetime supply of the stripey long johns and thermal jumpers, and of course I have my passion killers, which by the way I have dyed tangerine…. don’t they look great! To make an online order, and support this endangered Australian species, visit Australian Knitting Mills website at www.aust-woollenmills.com.