Emporium Knitwear Pty Ltd
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 ran Emporium Knitwear Pty Ltd in Collingwood, Melbourne between from the early 70’s until they sold it in 1985.
They made knitwear under the labels El Poko, Celina, Hombre, Alinari, Mio producing between 2 and 4 thousand garments a week and winning medals every year for their designs both in Australia and overseas in the United States, Canada and Europe.
One of the knitting machines at Emporium Knitwear
This in itself 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 interred at the Lodz Ghetto in Poland (the second largest WWII ghetto, you can read more about that here) 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.
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 3 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. You’ll have to get your skates on if you would like a piece for yourself though, it’s selling like hotcakes!
*All images reproduced with Mrs Kohn's permission.