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only speak broken English and found it hard to find a job in the industry.
"When I told my father-in-law I wanted to start making furs in Western Aus-
tralia he said to me, Nic, what s wrong with working at a fish and chip shop? but
after some pressure I found a job working from home making garments for a
leather manufacturer. Then one day my boss told me I was very talented and
should start my own shop," he says.
Nicholas set-up his first store in Fremantle on South Terrace paying $20 a
week in rent.
"Back then I got great business from all the Japanese fish boats," he says. "I
stayed in that store for a few years and then moved to another store in Fremantle
before ending up here (the city) in 1982."
Nicholas makes high-end garments for a range of designers and boutiques
under different labels, but he says it s the tourists and local customers who
make his day. "Not long ago I had a lady come in and ask me if I could alter
her fur and I remembered her as little girl in Fremantle because her mum
bought a fur off me. It was nice that she came back to see me."
In 2001 a Texas man offered Nicholas a great opportunity to manufacture
jackets. "The emu farms asked me to manufacture some garments for a show
they were putting on and they had American clients coming over. I had a par-
ticular client from San Antonio who tested me to see if I was good enough to
make jackets for his store. He came to me with his wife and said Nic I want
to you to make me lots of emu jackets and he handed me a check for $20,000
American -- this was a good start."
Nicholas works with native skins, such as emu and kangaroo, and sources
international skins from Spain, Italy and New Zealand.
Working in the fur industry comes with a range highs and lows. Over the
decades Nicholas has experienced many issues with animal liberation and says
that the economy controls the market.
"Fur is really the last thing anyone can buy and people only buy it when
the economy is doing well," he says. "Of course we have problems with PETA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) but people are more educated
now and see the truth. Leather is very popular but no one can see the differ-
ence between fur and leather, even though one is leather, which is shaved, and
the other is fur and leather -- it s the same thing."
Sinikka for Leather and Fur had one of its best years in 1987 when Perth
was host to the America s Cup.
"Back then I was selling three to four black diamond mink coats a week.
Today furs are changing to follow the fashion but in the early days furs were
heavier and had much more lining."
According to Nicholas, rabbit fur in reversible designs is popular in Western
Australia because it is light and available in a variety of colours and lengths.
"The quality of the skin depends on how much money you want to spend.
If you have a bit of money then you could have fox, chinchilla or a mink coat
with a nice silk lining," he says.
Nicholas battles constantly with competition from manufacturers in Asia,
but he says you get what you pay for.
"I ve never seen a good quality leather jacket come out of Bali, they re never
the right size or fit -- you can t buy a car and put a Rolls-Royce badge on it.
You have to buy a Rolls-Royce. It s fashionable here to have the designer label
so people buy them and then bring them to me to alter and fix."
The quality of Nicholas workmanship is flawless; out of 3000 jackets made
for the police department not one was returned.
"I have people who bring me their old leather jackets for me to fix," he
says as he pulls out a jacket that is falling apart. "This jacket would cost $120
to buy new, but the owner loves it and wants to keep it so I have to redo the
stitching so it looks the same, which will cost around $550. I believe in this, I
love this." sm
Contact: Sinikka For Leather and Fur, 117 Barrack St, Perth, (08) 9325 9733,
image alana blowfield
The life of a fur will depend on how well you look after it and the quality of the fur.
"I'm still dealing with furs from the 20s and 30s," says Nicholas.
• Cover your garment with a breathable cloth instead of a plastic bag. Fur is a
natural fibre and needs to breathe so it doesn't dry out and lose fur.
• Avoid letting perfume or hairspray come in contact with fur or leather.
• Don't spill alcohol on fur or leather because the sugar will burn the garment.
• Be sure to get the garment professionally cleaned depending on how often
you wear it. "In Europe they would smoke all the time so people would have to
get the fur cleaned at least once a month," says Nicholas.
• Ensure all your repairs are made by an experienced leather maker.
• Keep fur away from extreme heat, which can make the leather brittle.
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