For many years, I’d been intrigued by the factory located on my route to Brunswick Station. The claim to be ‘Actual Makers of Craftsman Tailored Shirts in the European Tradition’ seemed almost medieval in a contemporary retail culture of brands.
So I was quite sad to discover that it was closing down. Why? Today I went it to find out the reason this venerable business was coming to an end. Inside I was met by the ebullient owner, Bill Perucci. Bill was more than happy to take me through the epic story of Perucci Shirts to its current demise.
It appears that he acquired the shirt business from his Jewish father-in-law, an Epstein who escaped from Radom in Poland just before the Second World War. Epstein had been running a fruit business and was looking for something different. A friend approached him to be partner in his shirt business, offering to teach him all that he needed to know. After the partner’s marriage breakup, the wife’s new husband became the business partner. Neither he nor Epstein knew anything about shirts. It was left up to one of the workers to teach them the business.
Eventually they relocated the business from Lygon Street Carlton to its present Brunswick premises. Epstein eventually passed the business down to his educated son-in-law. They invented a new brand, Perucci – a mixture of letters of Epstein and his original name Russeck. Bill then changed his name to his brand as that would be easy for business.
And the business flourished, with the assistance of skilled labour coming from Italy, Greece and Vietnam.
So why are they closing? Is this part of the economic downturn? Do people no longer care for ‘craftsman’ made shirts?
Far from it. According to Bill, demand has never been stronger. The problem is that all their skilled staff have all eventually retired, leaving them without anyone who can make shirts. ‘We’ve been sacked by our workers!’ Bill exclaims.
Now that unemployment is rising, and globalisation is fraying at the edges, the closure of Perucci sends an important message. Perhaps it’s not only outside pressures that are affecting economies like Australia’s. There may well be inside forces eating away at our capacity as well.