Today we introduce another thriving family-owned design and manufacturing business, as part of our monthly ‘Family Portrait’ series. Meet the Gough family, who own and run St Albans knitting mills in Huntingdale, in Melbourne’s South East.
St Albans has been in operation since 1951, though the Gough family have been at its helm since 1968, when LS Gough bought the business. Originally known as ‘St Albans Textiles’, the company initially operated as an import company, bringing in finished mohair goods from the UK. The brand started manufacturing in Australia in the early sixties, and expanded their output over the following 40+ years, over three generations. Today, the company is run by Richard Gough (grandson of LS Gough), under close watch of his parents, Peter and Gill!
‘Dad had a variety of other small companies, but St Albans was the foundation of everything’ explains Richard. ‘When I joined we decided to solely concentrate on textiles. This was primarily because Dad and I simply enjoy it!’.
Today, the company employs 12 people, and from their factory in Huntingdale, design an impressive range of natural fibred products, including mohair and woollen throws and blankets, and alpaca scarves and throws. Many of the products are made here, whilst others are designed by the St Albans team and made overseas. The company is perhaps best known for their beautiful mohair blankets, woven in a factory owned and operated by St Albans in South Africa, where most high quality angora mohair originates. Their mohair blankets are available in the most incredible range of colours!
St Albans’ beautiful woven blankets and throws can be purchased in their online store, their factory outlet, and also at Myer, David Jones, and many independent retail outlets across the country. St Albans also creates an extensive range of specially commissioned private label products for clients including Jardan and Gorman. (You might recall their partnership with Gorman last winter – those incredible vivid neon mohair blankets!).
The Gough family incorporates Peter and Gill Gough (Company Directors, also known as ‘Mum & Dad’ !), their son Richard Gough – Managing Director, and his partner Karen Gough (structure/process) as well as his sister Camilla Gough, who is a respected Melbourne jeweller, but works with her brother on colour and trend forecasting for the business. Another of Peter and Gill’s daughters, Elizabeth, has recently moved back to Melbourne, and works as a teacher.
THE GOUGH PARENTS ON THEIR KIDS
What were your kids like growing up, did they always have creative flair?
Camilla, our youngest showed the greatest creative flair with her love of drawing and making things from a very early age. She followed this passion through to studying fine art and sculpture at Victorian College of the arts, and then onto jewellery.
We owned a large Victorian house with a wonderful garden and back stables that Peter converted into a workshop. The old house was always in need of upkeep, which was largely done by Peter and the kids in tow! The kids all mucked about with Peter in the workshop learning how to use tools and make things.
The ‘Mill’ (factory) was a big part of the children’s life; they spent many hours out at the mill with us. I remember laying out yarn colours for new rug designs on the office floor with the kids! Richard and Camilla particularly displayed a keen interest in colour from a young age.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your kids?
All three are strong independent people and have forged quite different careers, which makes for interesting family dinners! From running a family business together they have remained close to us and we have remained active in their lives. They work hard and care for their families and friends. Our pride for them is witnessing their success and happiness in life.
Did you ever anticipate your children would contribute to the family business?
Richard thrilled us with his interest in entering the family business. We felt it was important for the kids to shape their own future, so we didn’t actively push them to join us. Running family businesses requires extraordinary patience, particularly as the mantle is passed down from one generation to the next. Manufacturing, design and advertising has changed dramatically in the last 15 years and Richard has grasped these changes breathing new life into the business.
The design market is very different from when Peter and I ran the business; it is a global market now, and requires flair and confidence to succeed. Richard has been able to take our product into this new world stage beautifully, and it has been an amazing experience stepping away and watching him and the company flourish in a way that we couldn’t foresee.
Camilla assisted Richard in the early years of his involvement, consulting on colour and styling his shoots. Richard now has a team helping him create his vision! The business forecasts colour trends, which is a far cry from us and the kids laying out colours ideas on the office floor! It can be a burden for a child to take over a family business, and we were conscious of the pressure it would bring on them and the family dynamic. The most important thing is to eventually give the child who wishes to enter the family business creative autonomy, so the business has a chance to evolve with their vision and the marketplace demands.
RICHARD GOUGH ON his Parents
How have your parents influenced what you’re doing today?
My Father and Mother have been extremely supportive , accepting new directions and products. My Father is very willing to embrace change in any form and has always supported me .
My parents work ethic and honesty is amazing. They have always treated everyone equally and welcome people with open arms. They believe that nothing is impossible and always take pride in what they do. Dad’s famous line is ‘do every thing once, properly’. They have always encouraged creativity and solid business partnerships.
What memories do you have of the family business in your younger years?
With both parents working at the mill , I spent many hours out there. Dad was very hands on, and there was always a job to be done. I remember all the staff over the years especially the amazing mix of cultures. Lunch time was always a surprise to see what everyone was eating. They always wanted to share their meals with me.
I was always amazed by the sheer size, noise and smell of the old machines. Watching the weavers and finishers doing their craft with such pride and skill. It was great fun and so much was going on all the time, and I was never bored. I’m sure I always got in the way of the workers but I had to be part of everything. When my sisters were out there with me we would play ‘hide and seek’ for hours, on many occasions falling asleep on piles of mohair fabric.