The story starts like this: in the mid-1890s, without knowing where he was headed, 17-year-old Joseph Mansour left his home in Lebanon and jumped on a ship that would sail him to the New World. As luck would have it, the ship he decided to board docked in Australia, where shortly after his arrival, Joseph met and married his wife, Ava. The pair travelled around country New South Wales and south east Queensland, where Joseph sold fabrics, bedding and haberdashery. As their family grew, so did their business.
The family settled in Moree where a store was opened in late 1919. The shop, expanded a number of times, grew to be a substantial business. In 1939, Joseph’s son Lawrence travelled to Sydney to open a little shop in Campsie.
And that is where our modern story begins.
Today, Lawrence’s son John and his wife Deborah are at the helm, with their grown-up children close behind. And while the business has changed, the importance and impact of family has not. Mansours truly is a multi-generational business.
Mansours was one of the first retail businesses to offer in-home decorators. In fact, it’s still a service the company offers today, led by daughter Natalie, who also does a lot of the coordinating between clients, customers and installations. Ryan looks after commercial projects, external shading systems, big awnings, and works with the designers and decorators, and Adrianne looks after the books.
For John, having his children in the business is truly special.
“It’s wonderful for Deborah and I to know that they’re interested and that they see a future for themselves in this industry,” John says. “They’re very good at what they do. They’re passionate, they’re interested and they’re really good with people.”
A changing business
As with any industry, the fabrics and textiles space has dramatically changed. “When I started work in the late 1960s, there were a lot of smaller specialist textile and fabric wholesalers,” John explains. “Over time, like most industries, a lot of the smaller, individual specialists have been taken over or they’ve been phased out. They weren’t lucky enough to have children willing to take over the business.”
According to John, there are certainly far less mum and dad type stores. Rather, there are larger entities, run by operations or families, and the industry has become a little more sophisticated. However, there are very few showrooms like Mansours around Sydney.
When it comes to the fashion side of the industry, John has certainly noticed a transformation, but according to John, this is to be expected. “Fashions change rapidly,” he says. “Window fashions certainly have changed dramatically in the past ten to twenty years. There’s a lot more smart, simplistic, stylish window coverings and a lot less frills, baubles and festoons or Austrian valance.”
While he doesn’t indulge in home renovation shows like The Block, John says it certainly reflects what the industry is seeing at the moment – plain lines, simplicity and the personality of the homeowner.
“People want to dress their home up to the level they want to, or the level they can. It’s a reflection of them. It’s either pretty or stylish, or it’s colorful, or very neutral.” And while designers don’t necessarily like to talk about ‘beige’ as a colour, John jokingly refers to the neutral palette as “different shades of Richie Benaud’s jacket.”
Plans for the future
When asked about the future of the business, John is optimistic. “Everyone’s hope is just a natural, positive integration. But in reality, the children that are involved in the business today work well together. They know what they’re doing, they know how to do it,” he explains.
The longevity of the industry is unquestionable. “Everyone still needs window coverings,” John muses. “We still have high home ownership. Yes, it’s reducing, but it’s still high by world standards. We put a lot of money into our homes.”
And while there are a lot of different retailers out there who offer packaged products, for John, you can’t go past the personalised service.
“Australia is quite a sophisticated market by world standards. We have very good color and design wants and needs, and we understand color and design. It’s part of our lifestyle and education.”
John puts this down to our climate. With sunny bright blue days, even in the winter, we’re able to use colour, textiles and light effectively in our design. It’s also about controlling our ultra-violet exposure which makes dressing our windows even more important.
“So, the future? I’m always positive and optimistic,” John finishes. “I’m optimistic about the market broadly, but more-so, I’m optimistic about the way we do things here at Mansours – from our family, to yours.”
One thing’s for certain, when it comes to the Mansour family, textiles and fabric most certainly run through the bloodlines.