A new spin on a historic business

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Creswick Woolen Mills

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.

A service-centred business

The typical customer? “She buys for her mum, she buys for her daughter, she buys for her granddaughter, she buys wedding presents for the family. That’s why we don't understand why general retail ignores her,’’ says Sharon. “And when she’s away for the weekend with her husband in Daylesford or Beechworth, her husband who never goes shopping at home, he walks in, he sees beautiful jumpers, he’ll buy two or three, because he’s relaxed. It’s the weekend away, and he doesn’t feel pressured like in the typical shopping environment.’’

Meanwhile, part of the appeal of the reinvented Creswick Woollen Mills is its picturesque location between Ballarat and Daylesford. It last year received a Gold RACV Victorian Tourism Award, and has since received a $500,000 Regional Development Victoria grant, matched by the owners, that will build a welcome area for tourists, an all-weather alpaca encounter enclosure and a cafe. Plans for the redevelopment were announced at the Mill’s 70th-anniversary celebrations in October.

“We get Australians young and old, we get international visitors, we get Chinese visitors, and they’ve all got a slightly different reason for coming,” says Boaz. “It’s a really interesting mix where things come together. It’s really special.’’

Photo: Shannon Morris
 

SAVE

Creswick Woollen Mills is just minutes’ drive from RACV Goldfields Resort. RACV members save 25 per cent on resort accommodation when booking direct. VISIT: racv.com.au/resorts

Members receive free entry to Creswick Woollen Mills’ A Very Fine Yarn interactive exhibit. VISIT: racv.com.au/discounts

Creswick Woolen Mills
Creswick Woolen Mills
Creswick Woolen Mills
Creswick Woolen Mills
Written by Linda Pearce
November 24, 2017