Today we're back in 'Family Portrait' land, with an introduction to another inspiring Melbourne based family business! The Mananov family have been running their own knitting mills since 1969, when patriarch Les Mananov bought his first knitting machine and set himself up in a rented shopfront, offering commission knitting to local fashion brands. Before he knew it, Les was managing a bustling knitting factory in Brunswick, which was then the epicentre of Melbourne's booming textile and garment manufacturing industry.
Les' career in knitting started at 15 years old, as a knitting machine mechanic at Lip Knitting Mills on Lygon Street, Brunswick. It was here that he met a young machinist who later became his first wife, and mother of his son Anthony. Seeing a future in knitting, Les saved his wages until he had enough to buy one single machine. He rented a shop front, and put the machine in the window with a hand written sign offering commission knitting for fashion houses. Business began to grow almost immediately and soon, one machine grew to 20, and he had to move into his own factory space.
In 1990 at the age of 17, Anthony joined the business. Over the next couple of years, the company stopped making complex garments, as there was no way of competing with overseas manufacturers. 'We chose our niche, and started manufacturing predominantly beanies' says Anthony. Father and son decided to approach the surf brands and ride the wave of their success in the 90's, knitting for Quiksilver, Ripcurl, Billabong, Balin, Rojo and other well known brands. This proved to be a strategic move, and kept the machines cranking for many years.
However, in 2004, in the space of one season, almost all of the surf brands the Mananovs had been knitting for were lured offshore, by prices that local factories simply couldn't compete with. 'We painfully lost 80% of our customers in a very short space of time' says Anthony. The company had to downsize quickly, and decided to create their own brand to remain sustainable in Australia. With fierce resilience, and with the input of their friend, retail consultant Alasdair MacKinnnon, the Mananov family repositioned their business, and launched their own brand, Otto & Spike in 2006, named after Anthony and Kirstie's two kids.
Otto & Spike prides itself on utilising high quality surplus wool and 'loose ends' to create limited runs of woollen accessories, predominantly scarves and beanies. 'Over the years we had collectively managed to hoard an awful lot of surplus wool, and as knitting mills have closed their doors around us, we have bought their yarn' explains Anthony. Otto & Spike are also endorsed by Ethical Clothing Australia, which means their production processes are stringently audited. 'Being Australian made sadly doesn’t necessarily mean products are produced without exploitation' explains Anthony. 'It is important to us to have this partnership, we want our customers to be conscious of where what they are wearing came from'.
The company is now driven by Les and his son Anthony, along with Les' wife Jian Ling Liu, who joined the business in 1993, and Kirstie Mananov, Anthony's wife, who joined the business in 1999 as Otto & Spike's brand manager and designer. With a small but hardworking team of 16 staff, the company continues to manufacture knitwear for other brands when they can, however the majority of their output is now focussed on Otto & Spike products. They make beanies, scarves, gloves, picnic rugs and throw blankets, stocked in over 100 stores Australia wide, including Melbournalia, Monsterthreads, Best Street Store and Belki to name a few!
Anthony was an inquisitive youngster, he always asked a lot of questions. He was always very thorough, and very good at everything he did, whether it be music, sport, school or at work.
I'm proud of Anthony's input into the business. He's really just taken the bull by the horns, and gone with a dying industry, and managed to turn it around with some innovative thinking.
I didn't really expect Anthony to join the family business, it was just something that he fell into to keep busy at the time, and took to it like a duck to water. Twenty-five odd years later and I’m still waiting for him to move on and start his own career!
To his credit, Les was very open and welcoming to me in the business when I was 17. It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I decided to step up and take over the running of the business, and Les was very happy for me to do that.
As a kid, I used to visit the factory all the time. I had a fascination for the machines, I loved the way they moved and the sounds they made, but I was never allowed to touch them which perhaps intrigued me more!
We are proud to be able to create limited runs of beautiful scarves and beanies here in East Brunswick, made from some of the finest surplus wools collected from Australia and New Zealand. Otto & Spike is a team effort, it takes seven different pairs of hands to create any one scarf or beanie. Even though there are only four actual family members here, we are all one big family, many of our skilled machinists have been with us for the best part of 20 years. We couldn’t exist without our devoted team.