History: Vincent, The Factory & A Vintage Store
Vincent Galati and his wife Pasquana are very dear, old friends of the family.
Vincent first came into mum and dad’s life the same year I was born, in 1955. He was only 15 years old when he sailed from his small town in Italy - Acquaro - to seek his fortunes in this land of plenty. He never saw his father again.
It is because of Vincent that I know so much about mum and dad’s early years in Australia, and how their knitting business grew from a tiny back room rental in Brunswick to a successful factory, 'Emporium Knitwear Pty Ltd’, in Collingwood.
From the beginning Vincent always addressed mum and dad as ‘Mr and Mrs Kohn'. Nearly 70 years later, he still does.
He recalls 'Mr Kohn's' first premise, in 1955, at 384 Brunswick st, Brunswick. A year later it moved to 267 Brunswick st., Brunswick. Dad and Vincent worked very hard. They both could barely speak any English so when dad wanted to tell Vincent something, he would take a piece of chalk and write on the floor, ‘4.30pm - you go home - eat’ (pointing to his mouth, than to the floor again), ‘6.30pm come back. Work till 10pm’
Vincent still thinks of dad all the time, referring to him as ‘a second father.’
How can I forget Mr Kohn - it’s impossible! When you are a migrant, and you’re alone, when you meet someone new who is good to you, then you love them like your own family. He remembers mum as being zippy and always in a hurry, and dad being more calm and placid.
Over time, Mum and dad became concerned about Vincent. They knew he missed home as he used to cry while working on the machines, staring at the sky through the factory window. They suggested he go back. How could I go back? It would have been shameful! he explained to me.
As the factory grew and took on more and more workers, immigrants mainly from Italy and Greece, Vincent remembers how ‘Mrs Kohn’ (mum) would take the workers’ kids on outings to somewhere memorable, such as the National Gallery of Victoria, followed by a delicious lunch. She was always thoughtful and caring and knew that these kids rarely had the opportunity to go on such trips.
Vincent stopped working with ‘Mr Kohn’ when he returned home to Italy to visit his sick father. Unfortunately his father died before Vincent arrived. Looking back on his life, Vincent reflects that ‘a migrant has a very tough life.’
Fast forward thirty years:
After the factory was sold, boxes of knitwear were stored in mum and dad’s garage for decades. Mum always tried to get rid of them but dad was very attached to his creations, and so they gathered dust.
Until, in 2015, a young woman called Amy Minette, set up a vintage store in Yarraville and bought many of dad’s knitwear.
Here, after a conversation with mum and dad, she talks about the history behind the knitwear:
I was lucky enough to be tipped off by a local about a large collection of knitwear samples that the parents of a friend of hers were wanting to sell. Now anyone in vintage knows how many phone calls and tip-offs lead to absolutely nothing of any use most of the time, so it was a lovely surprise to find a delightful couple with boxes and boxes of the most wonderful knitwear pieces from the 1960’s and 70’s stacked up in their garage.
Maria (Marysia) and Adam (Adolek) Kohn started making hand made scarves and ties in the mid 1950s and then ran Emporium Knitwear Pty Ltd in Collingwood, Melbourne from the early 60’s until they sold it in 1985.
They made knitwear under the labels El Poko, Celina, Hombre, Alinari, Mio producing between two and four thousand garments a week and winning medals every year for their designs both in Australia and overseas - in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Setting up a thriving business from scratch is more than enough to be proud of in a lifetime, but as I learned over coffee and pastries the night my husband and I went to collect the samples, this was merely a chapter of their lives, albeit a happy one.
Mr and Mrs Kohn are both Holocaust survivors. Adam graduated from textile school in 1939 only 2 months before the outbreak of WWII. During the war he was interned at the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and managed to ensure his survival by making himself indispensable as the manager of a textile factory. Post war they ended up in Munich where Adam was studying architecture and from where they migrated to Australia in 1949 with a young baby, Celina.
They discovered that Adam could not finish the last year of his architecture degree as Munich University was not recognised here and would have to begin his studies again. This must have been such a blow at the time, but lucky for the Melbourne textile industry as he had to fall back on his skills and find work in textile factories again, working up to three jobs at a time to support his young family at factories such as ‘Nirens Woollen Mills’, ‘Trio Woollen Mills’, ‘Davies Co-op’ and ‘Jaquard Woollen Mills’
As soon as their living quarters were large enough, Adam started his own business as well. He bought a hand loom and started to produce hand woven scarves and ties around his other jobs. He designed a new hand loom specifically for producing scarves and taught his elderly cousin how to use it so he could purchase and design yarns. Maria began to visit shops and sell the range and after a while Adam took a business partner so he could keep working his other jobs while the business grew. Unfortunately his partner stole the large loom and wool and so the manufacturing of their beautiful hand woven garments ceased.
In 1953 Maria started working in a factory learning overlocking and finishing and a year later Adam bought a knitting machine and overlocker and slowly, slowly, as he worked his way up from position to position until he made it to Co-Director of ‘Furnishing Textiles’ in Carlton when he resigned and they started their own business again.
Owning a knitted garment from Emporium Knitwear is not only owning a piece of Melbourne’s long-gone textile production history, but also a piece of the blood, sweat and tears of the second chapter of this inspiring couple’s life.
I feel very honoured to have their beautiful garments for sale at Minette’s Vintage.
Vincent visits mum, February 2023
Vincent, Mum & Dad, 2004
Vincent & Pasquana, Mum & Dad, 2004
Dad's first garments manufactured in 1956: scarves & ties
Some pics from the old album
Dad outside the factory, 1975
The workers lifting mum up in celebration, 1975
Mum taking the workers' children on an outing to the NGV, 1970s
Some awards from the old album
Me & dad outside the factory, not long before he died in 2016