Shop Etsy

A Second Act for Phillips Shirts

Sep 18, 2012

by Carolyn Fraser

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

The story behind Phillips Shirts is a familiar one. In 1954, two newly arrived Czech immigrants – Alex Peterfreund and Philip Phillips – began small. They made men’s dress shirts at home, storing bolts of fabric behind the couch and making sales calls that stretched their limited English. In 1958, the company moved to a three-storey factory at 274 Little Lonsdale Street. At the height of their business in the late 1960s/early 1970s, they employed 80 machinists, 2 cutters and 4 pressers. Phillips Shirts supplied clients all over Australia and were known for their superior craftsmanship.

Phillips Shirts

Carolyn Fraser

In the post-war period, self-made men like Alex and Phillip could be found in garment manufacturing districts in major cities all around the world. These men and the manufacturing empires they founded are now mostly gone, and with accelerating speed, Phillips Shirts’ familiar rags-to-riches story has veered into unknown territory. Today, Alex’s son Andrew Peterfreund oversees a company of nine machinists, three pressers and one cutter. As markets shrink, the once-large company finds itself small again. How is it possible to compete in a market flooded with cheap imports? How can they hold on? Is it even desirable to do so?

Emma Clarke thinks the answer is yes. Employed in 2007 as a bookkeeper, Emma is the visionary behind a bold attempt to reinvigorate the business. Her secret weapons are Phillips’ enormous repository of fabrics, a skilled workforce, and a floor full of vintage dead stock. The challenge lies in scaling back the large-scale manufacturing plant so that it can nimbly respond to the demands of niche markets, while at the same time servicing the overheads of once-large business. It’s both a huge opportunity and a millstone.

Phillips Shirts

Carolyn Fraser

At the rear of the factory floor are the fabric storerooms, bolts of fabrics stacked ceiling high, many with original tags indicating their provenance. Emma is slowly inventorying this stock, culling the best pieces for Archive, the shop she’s opened in former showrooms at the front of the building. From the early 1960s, Phillips Shirts were produced in Liberty of London’s fine cotton lawn, and these colourful fabrics feature both in the cushions Emma has designed for Phillips’ homewares range and in Phillips’ bespoke shirts. Despite thousands of rolls of fabric waiting in store, Emma is visibly pained when a roll of a particularly loved cloth is used up – fabrics like these are no longer made.

Phillips Shirts

Phillips’ new home line, which uses dead stock materials.

Phillips Shirts

Today, Phillips Shirts is in production three days a week. It’s worth noting that although Emma has fashion sense and financial know-how, she doesn’t sew. Machinist Rosa Salvo celebrated 41 years at Phillips this month. Markar Arzumanian, the cutter, has worked at Phillips for 30 years. Emma relies on “the ladies” (and Markar) to bring her ideas to fruition. In recent times, they’ve made small runs of aprons and hairdressing capes. They make bowties. On the day I visit, they’re making a dozen-plus shirts on short notice for a television commercial. There’s argument about which shirts were theirs in a mini-series broadcast on television that week. Not surprisingly, costume designers love Phillips Shirts.

Phillips Shirts

Phillips Shirts

Phillips Shirts

“My dream,” Emma says, “would be to crank this place back up to five days a week. And I think it will happen, we’ve just got to hold on. I’ve got to wrap my head around, who are the right people to let know about us?” She and Joanna, a part-time marketing contractor, have established a presence for Phillips Shirts on the web and social media. When they opened the factory doors for Open House Melbourne, they were inundated with visitors. However, nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills. It is true that consumers are often fierce in their desire for old things while neglecting to financially support this existence. Emma’s hope is that they’ll soon be making 50 custom shirts a week. She and Joanna are pressuring Andrew for a marketing budget. They believe in Phillips Shirts’ potential, but know that time may run out. “This is it,” Emma says. “This is the make or break year.”

3 Featured Comments

  • lovelyfeverboutique

    Jessica from LovelyFever said 4 years ago Featured

    This was a fascinating story :) I had never heard of Phillips Shirts before, but this showed how one historical company is transforming themselves to remain competive in today's volatile economy. Glad to see that they are using their creativity to keep the business going! Those shirts do look pretty amazing :)

  • ginasart8

    Gina Hammond from McGillhandmade said 4 years ago Featured

    Quality never goes out of style! Excellent craftsmanship will outlast a cheap price or garment. Thank you for the story. gh

  • muffintopdesigns

    cy and d from TheLovelySmith said 4 years ago Featured

    love it that Phillips is trying to re-invent themselves and bring their own sense of style and history into the present. i feel that it speaks to the need - and want - of the consumer to be paying for something handmade, well constructed, unique and "homegrown" instead of something churned out by the big box stores. kudos to them - and hopefully they'll overshoot their goals! bravo, Phillips!

82 comments

  • SweetMeas

    Sarah Meas from SweetMeas said 4 years ago

    Great photos and a wonderful read !!

  • terrihvaught

    Terri H. Vaught from terrihvaught said 4 years ago

    How wondeful! I hope that they are able to make a full go of it! What a wonderful company and wonderful product.

  • ArigigiArt

    Gina from ArigigiArt said 4 years ago

    love paisley motif on fabric! lovely shirts!

  • SCAVENGENIUS

    Anathalia from SCAVENGENIUS said 4 years ago

    That's fantastic!

  • CoreandMantle

    Alayna from CoreandMantle said 4 years ago

    I love that this company is using deadstock to create pilllows and home decor. I think people are definitely willing to pay more money for quality products that will actually last, not to mention products that are made with quality materials and sewn properly...more and more I think people are realizing that saving money on a shirt at Walmart isn't actually saving money, because that shirt will fall apart and need to be replaced faster...bravo to this company; they have a rich history and I think, a bright future.

  • lovelyfeverboutique

    Jessica from LovelyFever said 4 years ago Featured

    This was a fascinating story :) I had never heard of Phillips Shirts before, but this showed how one historical company is transforming themselves to remain competive in today's volatile economy. Glad to see that they are using their creativity to keep the business going! Those shirts do look pretty amazing :)

  • theheirloomaddict

    theheirloomaddict from TheHeirloomAddict said 4 years ago

    Well put Alayna!!!

  • houseoftravis

    Travis from strangepainting said 4 years ago

    Great story, beautiful items! Wish them all the luck.

  • furniply

    Ingus Jākobsons from Furniply said 4 years ago

    Emma, I wish you to succeed, and make more then 50 shirts a week! Oh and I love to hear when old companies reborn!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 4 years ago

    Great story! I thought I recognized that Liberty fabric. Kudos for keeping it running.

  • RenataandJonathan

    Renata and Jonathan from RenataandJonathan said 4 years ago

    Great story !

  • northbirdsong

    Jeanne B from NorthBirdsong said 4 years ago

    Well crank it up and then stand tall - you are doing what I dream of - restarting or re-energizing a fabulous old factory from the dustbins of history! Great story and way-to-go on those old Liberty fabrics - I should be so lucky to fall on a pile of those! Your story should be the motivation to get the rest of the "home" made industries going again! (Gee if this would only happen to Scranton Lace.....sigh!)

  • northbirdsong

    Jeanne B from NorthBirdsong said 4 years ago

    And LOVE the shirts too....those prints are PRICELESS!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from bedouin said 4 years ago

    Sew interesting !! I think the timing for the business to regain momentum couldn't be better. much continued success to you and everyone who has the potential to be one of the once 80 plus employees

  • RetroRevivalBoutique

    RetroRevivalBoutique from RetroRevivalBoutique said 4 years ago

    Brilliant article! (^__^)

  • 4EnvisioningVintage

    Tracy from 4EnvisioningVintage said 4 years ago

    Awesome read & I hope they make it!

  • lizamatheney

    Liza Matheney from TemptingExtras said 4 years ago

    Love the products!<3

  • ginasart8

    Gina Hammond from McGillhandmade said 4 years ago Featured

    Quality never goes out of style! Excellent craftsmanship will outlast a cheap price or garment. Thank you for the story. gh

  • matryoshkasbysallie

    Sallie Phipps from matryoshkasbysallie said 4 years ago

    interesting story and inspiring

  • ClosetGothic

    Janne Perry from ClosetGothic said 4 years ago

    Love those fabrics... nice story.

  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 4 years ago

    Very nice article and great products.

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 4 years ago

    That's so wonderful !

  • mrsharris50

    Dana Harris from BeachhouseFleaMarket said 4 years ago

    Can i say, HOT!!!!!!!!!

  • bluebirdss

    bluebirdss from bluebirdss said 4 years ago

    Enjoyed reading this... amazing story!

  • wildthingz

    Andrea from wildthingz said 4 years ago

    Great story, wishing them a prosperous future!

  • AKingsThings

    Pamela King from AKingsThings said 4 years ago

    Keep up the good work and great attitude.... .just love those vintage fabrics!

  • karentribble

    Karen Tribble from JewelryFromMySoul said 4 years ago

    Wonderful article. I sewed competively when I was younger and loved the pictures of the fabric! I know it must have a good "feel" to it.

  • TreadleLady

    Donna Kohler from TreadleLady said 4 years ago

    Great story! I really like seeing the factories of creative businesses.

  • rarebeasts

    Brian McNamara from rarebeasts said 4 years ago

    Amazing story.

  • amysfunkyfibers

    Amy Gunderson from amysfunkyfibers said 4 years ago

    Love the story...I would love to create with all of that wonderful"stash"!!The fabrics are gorgeous!

  • LynnyA

    Lynn Heigh from VineAndBranchStudio said 4 years ago

    I understand how Emma feels when the last of a great fabric is gone, when there isn't enough left to fulfill one more good idea for it. Great article and a hope for revival of a vanishing industry.

  • JuJuBeeBaby

    JuJuBeeBaby from JuJuBeeBaby said 4 years ago

    Great story! I love all thing sewing and fabric!

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 4 years ago

    wow, to have your hands on fabrics that are no longer made, that makes me jealous. can't wait to see what else gets made from this vintage fabric.

  • jankaly

    jankaly from jankaly said 4 years ago

    I am of 'vintage' age and know of Phillips shirts. My father was an engineering supervisor for the the QLD state water supply and would have to fly from Brisbane (Queensland) throughout the northwest of the state. My mum would ensure dad always went off looking his best in his Phillips shirt and a tie despite the sweltering heat and high humidity. Mum would get Dad's shirts in Brisbane when she would go down there once every couple of months on the train. My mother always ensure dad looked his very best and my most vivid memory of the Phillips shirts was seeing them hanging on the old Hills hoist rotary clothes line billowing in the wind by their shirt tails as Mum said doing that made ironing the shirts easier. - Nostalgia at its best seeing this blog story this morning. I can still see the Phillips label on the upside down shirts on the clothes line. The memories! All the best breathing new life into something which was rather iconic for many in Austrlaia.

  • chelseabutler965

    Chelsea Butler said 4 years ago

    Wishing you the best. Love the shirts.

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 4 years ago

    so interesting! ♥

  • EmiliaFaith

    Edie Ann from OhHoneyHush said 4 years ago

    Love the prints!!

  • sunkissedhighways

    Noel Tambour from sunkissedhighways said 4 years ago

    i hope they survive and then flourish. there's enough in the brand to make it for another century at least

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 4 years ago

    Very interesting story! Wish them much success!

  • cottonandcouture

    Debra Hadrian from cottonandcouture said 4 years ago

    Great inspiring story,thank you for sharing it

  • outofline

    Beki Wilson from outofline said 4 years ago

    Love the attitude! I hope they find all their customers, I'm sure they are out there:) Best wishes!

  • coalchild

    coalchild from coalchild said 4 years ago

    Heres hoping that another go around can be had and I wish them the best of luck....its a hard economy these days but with all the retro styles out there that are being made new I can't see why an original can't be made great again. I am a child of the 70's and when i look at the new fall line-ups I swear most new fashions are almost copies from the 70's and 80's...I would think , it would be way cooler to own an original with original vintage fabric than a brand new copy. Plus i would love to see that fabric used for a variety of home goods and maybe even curtains. May you find success!

  • fantasygarden

    Anna Kikute from fantasygarden said 4 years ago

    very cool shirts

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 4 years ago

    So cool!

  • towngarden

    katherine olivia slicher from EnglishRegalia said 4 years ago

    Put the items on Etsy, they'll sell !

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 4 years ago

    Superb story!!!

  • AlisaDesign

    Alisa from AlisaDesign said 4 years ago

    Awesome!

  • whitneysimpson5

    Whitney Simpson from WhitsShoppe said 4 years ago

    Have you thought of producing a women's line?

  • KidsCreationsOz

    KidsCreationsOz from KidsCreationsOz said 4 years ago

    So nice to see Phillips Shirts back up and running. I stocked Phillips shirts in my Mens retail store many years ago and they always sold so well. Good luck with your vision I am sure with your positive view you can make anything happen :)

  • sparrowsalvage

    Sparrow from sparrowsalvage said 4 years ago

    It's so exciting to see this kind of stuff happening- and when it's right in my own city, it's even more exciting! I have a secret passion for 1970s fashion, especially men's fashion! I think the 70s were a high point in 20th century fashion - the old-school sharpness of a good suit combined with the bold aesthetic of the contemporary patterns and colours. Getting the right people won't be hard in Melbourne- we love our vintage and handmade here. Stocking deadstock in local boutiques, getting a stall at indie markets, promoting in Frankie and Peppermint- I hope you're going to be at the vintage fashion festival next month! I would love to see the patterns reworked slightly for a more modern shape in affordable product for both sexes- I think only the true retro hound appreciates a butterfly collar and very little people can afford $200 for the original deadstock. I love this sort of thing- supporting homebase industry and re-inventing the outmoded to be current... I feel compelled to just pitch up on the doorstep of Phillip's shirts and lend a hand just to be part of it! (I can't pretend I'm not swooning over the idea of a FLOOR full of deadstock men's shirts!)

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 4 years ago

    Amazing shirts, I love all the reams of vintage fabrics. Amazing it would be so sad if these skills were lost!

  • Elyseeart

    Lavinia Voicu from Elyseeart said 4 years ago

    Lovely article and useful too! I love the shirt's design!

  • michalwilkenfeld

    Michal Wilkenfeld said 4 years ago

    amazing shirts!

  • bananaorangeapple

    Hannah from BananaOrangeApple said 4 years ago

    I think I am in love! I have never heard of Phillips shirts, but I can think of several other aussie brands which are now produced overseas, such a shame.

  • nicolanis

    Michelle from FoamyFactory said 4 years ago

    sweet fabrics! love the pics

  • muffintopdesigns

    cy and d from TheLovelySmith said 4 years ago Featured

    love it that Phillips is trying to re-invent themselves and bring their own sense of style and history into the present. i feel that it speaks to the need - and want - of the consumer to be paying for something handmade, well constructed, unique and "homegrown" instead of something churned out by the big box stores. kudos to them - and hopefully they'll overshoot their goals! bravo, Phillips!

  • PopLoveCouture

    Shai Wallach from PopLoveCouture said 4 years ago

    I find it baffling to see when a company that produces well-constructed, stylish items (especially in the men's market, there's a real demand for it) manages to fall on hard times. Granted, it can be near impossible to compete with cheap imports, but with the right know-how, I think that Emma has a real chance at getting the production up & running at its height again.

  • kathyjohnson3

    Kathy Johnson from kathyjohnson3 said 4 years ago

    I loved looking at the shirts, they reminded me of 70's and anything retro seems to be in style nowdays, I really think they are going to make it with todays social technology they can market anywhere! Good luck to them!

  • ShinyBead

    ShinyBead from ShinyBead said 4 years ago

    Great article!

  • BellaTuppy

    Penny from BellaTuppy said 4 years ago

    I love the story on their website about the heritage of how they began. They learned a skill and put it to use in a managable way. Very inspiring!

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 4 years ago

    Good luck you guys! I think you are doing a great thing with a fabulous, good quality product, keep going!! xo

  • ElChocolatin

    Elena Petryanina from ElChocolatin said 4 years ago

    beautiful products and prints. Excellent craftsmanship. May you find success!

  • JennasRedRhino

    Jennifer Schmidt from TheCatBall said 4 years ago

    What an ideal entrepreneurial setup! They already have the workshop, the name, the history,, the expensive equipment, materials and PATTERNS. This article demonstrates that there is also brainpower and vision- stick with it! What a fabulous opportunity! It seems that increasing the connections with costume shops will provide an important revenue. This shop needs to have a skilled pattern maker on hand who can help create pieces for cinema and Television!

  • LAccentNou

    Anastasia from LAccentNou said 4 years ago

    Love the fabric and the shirts! All the best to you!

  • sugarandspicesoaps

    Mariella from sugarandspicesoaps said 4 years ago

    Gorgeous! , and wish you all the best ! :)

  • CosmicFirefly

    CosmicFirefly from CosmicFirefly said 4 years ago

    ooh I love pretty shirts !

  • Avaricia

    Valerie from Avaricia said 4 years ago

    i can't stop pinning and tweeting! the prices are amazing.

  • ArtJournals

    ArtJournals from ArtJournals said 4 years ago

    Really beautiful...

  • reflectionsjewelry

    Emily Delfin from reflectionsjewelry said 4 years ago

    Oh ! I hope you make it! Best wishes.........

  • revivalbancroft

    Moxie and Suzy from RevivalVintageStudio said 4 years ago

    Another great business blazing trails! keep up the awesome work! I also want to say... what a cool looking red haired dude!

  • handmaderomance

    Evie Barrow from eviebarrow said 4 years ago

    wonderful article! i love this story and i wish emma and team all the best x

  • dianareynolds

    Diana Reynolds from GalleryDiana said 4 years ago

    I think the cushion gig is a waste of lovely fabrics. What about bespoke waistcoats for cool young dudes? What about narrow leg tailored trousers for both sexes? What about trilbies & sun hats? overall though I think it a marvel that some manufacturing is surviving in Australia and I utterly applaud it!

  • gilstrapdesigns

    Debra Gilstrap from gilstrapdesigns said 4 years ago

    Great article and I'm really liking those paisley shirts and I hope that everything really does turn out well for you all.

  • stockannette

    Annette from Stockannette said 4 years ago

    Two of my favorite words: "dead stock!" GORGEOUS!

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 4 years ago

    I love these patterns! Deadstock? Whatever. Pretty cool, I'd say. Thanks for sharing.

  • alofashion

    Amanda from alofashion said 4 years ago

    Lovely fabrics, I'd love to buy some!!

  • SimplyBearyBear

    bearybear TEN from SimplyBearyBear said 4 years ago

    I love the story and i hope they'll make it! :)

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 4 years ago

    Needless to say the shirts/fabric are amazing and so is the models hair....

  • tadalyn2006

    Kelie from tadalyndesign said 4 years ago

    I love the old and wish we could keep it anew!

  • Pysar

    Yuri Pysar from Pysar said 4 years ago

    great story :) hope, they´ll make it.

  • DewyMorningVintage

    DewyMorningVintage from DewyMorningVintage said 4 years ago

    I loved this! I hope they can make a go of their old business. It would be fun to dig through all their stuff! Great story!

  • danielskull

    Daniel Skull from danielskull said 3 years ago

    want!

Sign in to add your own