The emergence of Wise Schools
In 2017, Wise Schools Pty Ltd was formed as a new vertically integrated enterprise to serve the school uniform needs of Australia’s schools. It arose from and is lent the heritage of C E Wise Pty Ltd (trading as Wise Schoolwear), a three-generation historical icon of Australia’s school apparel industry dating back to 1925.
Wise Schools Pty Ltd emerged with a substantially expanded reach and an enlarged range of products and services following partnerships and equity stakes from local and overseas business interests that brought together expertise from yarn and fabrics to garment manufacture and design, to logistics and distribution. Vertical integration allowed an existing supply chain that had been the originating source for many Australian wholesalers to be integrated closely into Wise Schools.
Partners joined the Wise family in forming a new Australian school apparel supplier, with modern quality assurance systems and inventory control but also with a long and proud heritage. These mergers provide a platform to better serve the complex uniform needs of Australia’s schools through exceptional advantages in global supply chains and product and production expertise.
The history of C E Wise and Wise Schoolwear
The business of C E Wise was started in 1925 by Charles Eric (Jim) Wise and Hilda Josephine Wise at the back of their house at 67 Penders Street, Thornbury, Victoria.
Hilda had started work at 14 in a clothing manufacturing business in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, and showed the industriousness and drive that always destined her to start her own manufacturing business. With hard work and dedication, she and her husband Jim built a business initially producing girls’ school blazers and put together an impressive list of early retail customers: Ball & Welsh, Mutual Store, Leviathan, Buckley & Nunn, Foy & Gibson, Manton’s, and Myer. By the end of the 1940s, they had established a name in the schoolwear sector in Melbourne. In 1947 they built a dedicated factory at 780 High Street, Thornbury.
By the 1950s Jim and Hilda Wise had an expanding, successful business and two of their three children, Graham and Valma, joined the business. Graham concentrated on building enduring business relationships based on his own quiet and honest style, winning respect from the industry. Valma displayed the diligence and personnel management skills to successfully oversee an efficient production process.
The business continued to prosper in the 1960s while Valma left Australia’s shores to spend 7 years in the UK. She returned in 1966 as Valma Barrington with a young family of her own and rejoined the business. Jim Wise had fully handed over the leadership of the business to Graham in the 1960s. In 1970, sadly, the man who gave his name to the business died.
C E Wise Pty Ltd expanded through the 1970s to be a manufacturer of schoolwear to other eastern Australian states and by the end of the 1970s employed more than 30 people and had supplied more than 500 Australian schools.
The hard economic times of the 1980s were weathered in large part by the strength and sheer hard work that Hilda still managed to instil in all. In 1990 Hilda Wise – an inspiring and galvanising force in the manufacturing sector of the rag trade – sadly also passed away.
Graham still had the industry standing and drive through the 1990s to see the business expand in markets and products to reach all eastern Australian states, the Northern Territory and the first customer in New Zealand. Graham continued his management of the business into the early years of the new millennium but in 2008, he too died.
In 2006 the Wise family had seen the passing of the baton to the third generation of leadership of the business with an equity stake being taken in C E Wise Pty Ltd by Valma’s son, Dr Graham Barrington, who with an eye to family history and having himself started in the family business in 1972, supplemented his clinical role in paediatrics and health sector management with a leadership role in the business. Drawing on skills from his MBA from the Melbourne Business School and in not-for-profit Directorships, he combined forces with his sister Lynne Barrington, as the third generation of the Wise family to steer the family business to its rightful place as not only a historical icon of Australia’s schoolwear industry, but one with expanding scope, competitive strength and evolving partnerships.