Paula Stafford’s biography ‘Bikini: the Paula Stafford Story’ mentions her interest as a ten year old in the loom room at Trawalla homestead in country Victoria which gave her a lifelong passion of creating fabric and weaving.
Paula wished to be an architect and, with an innate interest in design, would spend time drawing up plans to alter her childhood home. She attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, and despite her desire to work as an architect, was strongly encouraged to study dress design instead. Never the less, Paula continued to study maths, physics and chemistry in case an opportunity to study architecture arose in the future.
Paula’s first job was as a salesperson in a bridal and evening wear department. She was soon doing all of the alterations. In 1943 Paula married Beverely Ralph Stafford and relocated to Beverly’s home on the South Coast.
Beverly started a beach hire business with surf-o-planes and United States army disposal tents which were used as sun shelters on Surfers Paradise Beach. Being on the beach, Paula wore two-piece swimsuits every day and Beverley wore colourful oversized shirts.
Many visitors asked where these clothes came from and, after learning that Paula made them, asked her to make clothes for them. While Paula was busy with four young children and a growing business, she also designed the U shaped apartment building called Fiesta.
Paula’s attic workroom became too small and the family home was altered to create a shop which opened in early 1956. Initially called Fiesta, the shop was later known as The Tog Shop, The Bikini Bar and finally Paula Stafford of Surfers Paradise. Orders were completed within twenty four hours to give people an opportunity to wear their new bikinis and beach wear while still on holiday.
Paula collaborated with the Gold Coast Council in many promotions to New Zealand and interstate to encourage visitors to the Gold Coast. The promotional tours included fashion parades in the streets and other venues with Courtesy Maids and Golden Girls wearing bikinis and other clothing designed by Paula.
An article in the Gold Coast Star in 1973, refers to Paula making her first bikini. “She turned the lower half of her Cavill Avenue house into a workshop and sales room and within a week had eight girls working for her. Within a month, her staff had risen to fourteen and she started to supply the wholesale market. She now has forty employees working at top pace to supply markets throughout Australia, Japan, Hawaii, South-East Asia, Canada and New Guinea with tens of thousands of bikinis a year.”
Paula was awarded Gold Coast City Council’s Legend Award in 2012 and the Paula Stafford Park at Kurrawa, Broadbeach is named in her honour.
Sources of information and further reading
- Stafford, Paula and Mcgovern, Ali. Bikini: The Paula Stafford Story, [Miami Qld.]: P. Stafford, 2010.
- “Bikini Launched into Fashion World.” Gold Coast Star, 24 Aug 1973, p. 1.
- “From Bikinis to Beans.” The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982) 24 Dec 1980: 29. Web. 6 Jan 2016 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43740314