By Sean Car
If there is one thing that David and Sally Kiper know, it’s how to produce a good coat.
The couple has been in business together for 45 years and their iconic stall has become an institution at the Queen Victoria Market (QVM). And with winter now well and truly in season, there is no better time to pay them a visit.
A third-generation business and one of few left of its kind, Catcher Coats has been manufacturing coats in Australia using cashmeres and wools from Prato in Italy since the 1970s. Using old fashioned methods of Italian design and tailoring, just the feel of one of its coats is indication of a product made to last.
In defying all the odds that the retail sector has thrown its way, their longevity is testament to a passion and commitment to quality. As the industry has continued down a path of mass-production and commercialisation, Catcher Coats has done the contrary.
“We’re basically contrarians,” David said. “We’re one of the last manufacturers left standing here but we make in Australia and we go to Europe to source our products.”
“Winter is our season! The benefit from importing from Europe is that it’s the reverse of our season. I can go there when their season finishes and ours is about to start.”
“We pitch from bitumen with white lines and not fancy stalls so we’re in a position to offer our product at a more than reasonable price.”
Step inside David and Sally’s stall and you’re immersed in coats of all varieties. Offering everything from winter duffle and trench coats to blazers and puffa jackets, Catcher Coats is a one stop shop for men, women and children.
Most importantly, David and Sally know their customers inside out and the market has provided them with the perfect vehicle for building that connection with people over the years.
While he describes retail as “the most basic form of enterprise,” David said there was a defined science to understanding it and there was no better place to learn than QVM.
Originally from Poland, David speaks several languages and has witnessed the evolving migration patterns in Melbourne since the 1970s, tailoring his way of doing business to suit needs of different cultures.
“I am a man of Queen Victoria Market, which is the world,” David said. “What makes it unique is that you’ve got the world around you. I get customers from Europe and I get customers from Broadmeadows. You name a demographic and we come across it here.”
“If anybody wanted to do polling on the sentiment or mood of the world or the nation, this is the place to come and get it. We’ve predicted the last three elections purely by talking to people.”
“We can primarily judge sentiment of the economy, people’s moods, purely by being here at the coalface. You see it all.”
Talking to David at his stall, his passion for the market and its people is infectious. Having got to know his fellow traders over the years, he said the sense of community and support within the market was incredibly strong.
“What we experience here at the market is that there are no walls, so you get to know people on a personal basis and their background and challenges in trying to adapt to this lifestyle,” he said.
“A lot of the traders were highly educated people whose qualifications weren’t recognised when they migrated here, so they ended up selling boots and clothes and coming from totally different backgrounds.”
“At the end of the day we’re all the same. Everybody has the same ambitions and desires and they were people who were starting off their life again. Their main endeavour is for their children to have a better life than they had.”
“They had to sacrifice a hell of a lot to give their children those opportunities and Australia is the perfect place for them to have done that. The Queen Victoria Market has been the perfect vehicle for them to drive those ambitions forward.”
Catcher Coats can be found at Queen Victoria Market’s J-Shed and online at catchercoats.com