This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996
George Gotardo Foletta (1892-1973), hosiery and knitwear manufacturer, was born on 30 January 1892 at Northcote, Melbourne, eldest son of Victorian-born parents Henry Gotardo Foletta, a stonemason of Swiss extraction, and his wife Gertrude, née Bright. Henry repaired the depression-ravaged fortunes of his family by starting a successful fancy goods commission-agency.
George was educated at Princes Hill State School and South Melbourne College. He joined the firm in 1909, studied accountancy at night-school, and gradually assumed control of all the Foletta book-keeping, advertising and marketing operations. The flair for design that sparked his interest in advertising the firm's imported hosiery also influenced his own style of life. After he married saleswoman Alice Myra Cooper on 13 March 1915 at the Methodist Church, North Carlton, they built a Californian bungalow, one of the earliest of these unconventional houses in Melbourne.
In 1917 George A. Bond began manufacturing silk stockings in Sydney, attempting to overcome Australian prejudice in favour of imported hosiery, but it was not until the end of the boom in 1920-21 and the crash that destroyed 50 per cent of the softgoods import-houses that the hosiery market was opened to increased local manufacture. Backed by his father and a friend Frank Levy, in 1920 Foletta set up the Atlas Knitting and Spinning Mills Pty Ltd in a small hall at Brunswick. Levy was chairman, George Foletta was general manager and his father was a director. With six fine-gauge machines on line by April 1921, Atlas's 'Prestige' brand, high-quality, circular-knit silk hosiery made such a spectacular and profitable entry into the industry that, despite a falling share market, the firm was able to go public as Prestige Ltd in April 1922.
The next few years at Prestige saw friction between board-members: the Folettas wanted the company to persevere with top-of-the-range lines, but the majority faction—led by A. G. Staley and the company's bankers—believed a low-to-medium quality range should be produced. Father and son resigned from the board in 1922 and George went to manage the company's Sydney office. When he returned to Melbourne he found that Prestige, relocated in a new factory at East Brunswick, was making heavy losses in the face of renewed foreign competition. He persuaded the demoralized board to restructure around a quality-first marketing policy. By 1924, when George A. Bond & Co. Ltd was liquidated, Prestige was back in the black. About this time the company became the first Australian knitter to make fully-fashioned silk stockings, outselling the best imported brands and giving Prestige dominance of the local hosiery market.
With the arrival of British-trained Leslie Gough in 1926, Prestige entered its period of greatest expansion. By 1933 it was spinning its own silk yarn, had diversified into lingerie and commenced business in New Zealand; three years later it was spinning imported rayon filament into hosiery yarn. Foletta was managing director (1937-48), chairman (from 1943) and governing director (from 1948) of the Prestige group of companies. In 1944 the company branched out into weaving. Twenty years on, Prestige took over its major competitor, Staley's Holeproof Industries Ltd. In 1968 the Prestige-Holeproof group was the largest knitter in the country, producing a complete range of men's, women's and children's clothing. On 29 July that year Foletta and his board reluctantly recommended acceptance of the offer of Dunlop Australia Ltd to take over the group, and he retired as chairman and governing director.
Foletta was a leading figure in the Australian Industries Protection League, and a co-founder and president (1951-56) of its successor, the Australian Industries Development Association. He was notable as an entrepreneur, a battler of overseas combines and a fighter for Australian manufacturing. In 1962 he was appointed C.M.G. Although he described his younger self as 'a bit of an idealist, a silly kid, a radical', he seemed to the reporter who interviewed him at the time of his retirement to his Tudor-style mansion, with its art collection and bearskin rugs, to be a hard man, slight, wiry and younger than his 76 years. A strong believer in family virtues, he employed two of his brothers at Prestige. None of his sons chose to work in manufacturing, but Foletta's sense of family extended to his factories where Prestige provided elaborate amenities for the employees. Survived by his wife and three of their four sons, he died on 25 April 1973 at Ivanhoe and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $298,316. In 1975 his family history, Woven Threads, was privately printed. Five years after Foletta's death, Dunlop discontinued the Prestige brand.
Airlie Worrall, 'Foletta, George Gotardo (1892–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/foletta-george-gotardo-10210/text18045, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 2 March 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996