Munro Footwear Group tells the story of its founder, Graham Munro, who is celebrating 70 years in the footwear industry.
For Graham Munro, leaving school to pursue a career in business was always his ambition.
Earning a scholarship to the Myer business training program in 1951, that same year saw him transferred to the footwear department.
He’s been in the footwear industry ever since.
Over his eight valuable years at the Myer Emporium, Munro reflects on the early waves of globalisation.
"As interesting new international products started coming into the country, luckily for me, Myer didn’t know that a raffia sandal with a cork unit sole was actually a sandal," he chuckles, "so they ended up in my slipper department.
"This department went on to become the most successful on the floor in its first season thanks to those very fashionable slippers."
By 1959, Munro’s keen entrepreneurship landed him a sales role with footwear agents Clark & Coventry in Clifton Hill, with founder Nathan Clark, creator of the iconic Clarks desert boot.
Melbourne was a footwear manufacturing hub then, with Abbotsford, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Clifton Hill home to almost five hundred shoe factories, tanneries and suppliers.
"I can still drive down Hoddle Street and point out the original shoe factories," Munro added.
Identifying a gap in the market for teenage girls, Munro ventured into design and manufacturing, introducing the Gamins brand in 1962.
"Back then, the options for 15–17-year-old girls were limited to their brown, T-bar school shoes, or shoes stolen from the bottom of their mother’s wardrobe."
The brand was hugely successful, stocked in retailers across Australia.
By the 1970s, decreased government protection for the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing industries and increased importation decimated Australian footwear manufacturers to the point where there were only a handful left.
"We continued manufacturing long after most of our competitors had given up, an approach that caught up with us by the late 90s when we lost just about everything.
"Those last few years were very painful," he said.
In the early 2000s, the business saw a successful resurgence as an importer and wholesaler, a move that Munro credits almost entirely to his wife, Kerrie, and formed the foundation of the successful retail and wholesale business we see today.
Reflecting on the various evolutions of the business over seven decades, Munro attributes the importance of relationships as one of the keys to his success.
"We received tremendous support from previous partners when we reimagined our business.
"We’d done the right thing by them in the past, and they wanted to do the same by us," he said.
Munro’s advice to future entrepreneurs?
"It’s all about the people, your team and your customers. Don’t focus on the past, and don’t focus on what can’t be done.
"We’ve always experimented.
"Some might have considered these approaches hairbrained, for instance when we took on Styletread, but these experiments have led to some amazing results," he said.
From humble beginnings with his family once living above their factory in Abbotsford, lacing moccasins together until all hours to save a few dollars, to now a $300 million business, Munro is satisfied cheering on from the sidelines these days.
"I’m still involved with styling and sampling processes every season and keeping a watchful eye over daily sales."
Munro Footwear Group enjoys continued success as Australia’s largest privately-owned footwear company.
From its roots in manufacturing, the business today has hundreds of stores, designing and developing over 80% of its products out of a sourcing and manufacturing network that spans more than 20 countries.