In the past year more than 130,000 visitors have visited the Creswick Woollen Mills between Ballarat and Daylesford.
If not quite an accidental drawcard, the Creswick Woollen Mills are an improbable one. In the past year, more than 130,000 local and international visitors have ventured to the award-winning tourist attraction near Ballarat that has anchored a family business for the past seven decades. Perhaps, in this case, diversification is the new black.
The vast building started life as a factory manufacturing straw thatch, before being reinvented as a woollen mill in 1947 by newly arrived Polish immigrant Paul Ryzowy – who had fled war-ravaged Europe via five countries before arriving in Australia – and a university friend who was to become the enterprising 35-year-old refugee’s business partner.
A old craft re-imagined for the modern world
It is now owned and run by Ryzowy’s grandchildren: executive director Boaz Herszfeld and his retail director sister Sharon, as a “small-medium” textiles, manufacturing and retail business that has expanded to embrace not just tourism but to boast seven Creswick Natural Fibre Stores. Products include its signature alpaca homewares and cashmere and merino apparel and contribute to an annual turnover of more than $10 million.
Boaz laughs that patriarch Paul, who passed away at the age of 96 and was involved almost to the end, would be both amazed by and critical of the transformation from what for so long was a business that made and sold only unbranded fabric and yarn. Still, the company retains its roots in the historic tin building 120 kilometres from Melbourne that is the last coloured spinning mill of its type still in operation in Australia. More than 50 others have since closed, unable to compete with rationalisation, changing times and cheaper imports.
Mills were once mostly white-wool only. “You’d take the wool off the sheep’s back and you’d spin it in a white state and then you would dye the yarn or dye the fabric,’’ Boaz explains. “Paul had a coloured mill and the interesting genesis of that is that back in Europe, in Poland, there were a lot of mills like this.
“There were rooms of ladies who would take 100 black jumpers, take off the label, the zipper, the tags, then take all these black jumpers and put them through rag-tearing machines, and end up with 100 kilos of fluff. You’d then respin that. So a coloured woollen mill was actually the original recycler, when you think about it.’’
That industry has now moved to Asia, so, about 10 years ago, Boaz decided to change course. He hired sister Sharon to take charge of products and people, and what started as a bid to lure shoppers who once frequented bus shopping tours and now just go straight to DFO, has evolved into a service-driven, quality-focused retail business from Sassafras to Hawthorn.