The ISHKA Story
The ISHKA Story, as told by Michael Sklovsky....
In the sixties I dropped out of University and I rode my motorcycle to Sydney; I was confident to leave with only a few dollars knowing opportunity awaited me. After a few months as a building labourer, I spent 12 months living with no fixed address, mostly between Byron Bay (pre Nimbin festival which changed everything) and Rockhampton.
During this period I had many great experiences for a suburban Melbourne boy including direct exposure with people making and selling candles and peace symbols. I saw myself an as individual, an outsider, a rebel against the values of the society I lived in. Because of my attitude and appearance I was seen as a hippy, but I never believed all that went with this image; I was more interested in Zen and Eastern Philosophy than what came out of San Francisco.
The Early Years: 1971-75
In 1971 ISHKA opened as a humble craft studio; only goods made on the premises were sold. Four of us decided to live in and operate a shop in an old building in Glen Iris. I suggested “ISHKA” - the name of a friend’s Afghan Hound and also a village in Afghanistan, according to their atlas. To me, it was memorable and exotic.
In the early years, our incomes were dependent on our own creations sold to shops and galleries across Victoria, at the Glen Iris shop and at markets. I was making leather goods and selling bags, chess boards, belts, bright colour batik fabric, clothes and paintings.
In 1973, I expanded my buying and bartering of crafts. For the first time, we began to import crafts into the shop's structure, with local pottery and Indian clothes becoming most popular.
Early ISHKA days were exciting times. As I happily worked seven days a week, early til late, local customers knew they could visit anytime. The shop had loud music with a real living room atmosphere, and we served herbal tea to all visitors to the shop. We still have customers who remember these times.
As the shop collection evolved, so too did my own work. I began creating eccentric one-off pieces and sculptural bags, including a koala bag for Dame Edna Everage and goanna briefcases with moving tails and heads.
ISHKA was unique; we were the first to sell Australian craft, along with clothes and world craft. I began buying from travellers going to Peru, Afghanistan and Indonesia.
The Travelling Years: 1975 - 80’s
My first trip to Bali in 1975 was an eye opener. Here I experienced a magical culture; the ancient feel of everything, the genuine belief in the spirit world and the time taken by everyone in devotional activity. Everywhere I looked, I was intrigued and amazed.
During my time in Ubud, I met Nyoman (Nomad) who became my first supplier. He and his wife, Moriarty, lived and worked in a small 3m x 3m single room and owned little. We became friends and business associates, travelling to small villages in secluded valleys connected by dirt tracks, to buy from people with no wealth, but, to me, a remarkable lifestyle.
In 1975 I travelled to Thailand also, and ISHKA became an overseas product designer and direct importer. For the first time, I experienced village life. In Chiang Mai, I made contact with an Akha family and I experienced first-hand the difficulties the minority groups face. The friendship built over the years and the trade we started, making bags and cushion covers out of their traditional textiles, was an important aspect of our business for many years.
When primitive art became fashionable in the late 70’s, I was riding an exciting wave due to my love for the primitive, rustic and spiritual. ISHKA started leading the field with its designs, innovation and stock selection, including selling primitive art and transforming discarded architecture and ox carts into interesting furniture.
Travel highlights of so many years include:
- Travelling in a Kombi through France, Italy and Yugoslavia in ‘78
- 2 months in Egypt in 1982
- Trekking and rafting in Nepal (several occasions)
- Numerous trips to Rajasthan
- Visiting Moscow with my father and meeting the Russian side of my family
- Turkey (perhaps the warmest people I have experienced)
The Expansion Years 80’s-90’s
In the early eighties, our ethical base was developing. I was able to witness first-hand the benefits that trade delivered to the communities we dealt with. I have always been passionate about working with minority people and refugee groups, as well as environmental issues.
During this time, we opened new shops in South Yarra, Surrey Hills and Wheelers Hill. As our stores expanded, so too did our team. I delegated many important areas of the business to managers for the first time, and I ceased to be a craftsman. For the first time we computerised aspects of our business and increased efficiency in many ways. We have had many exceptional and diverse characters work here, many who have contributed to our concept, and left a lasting impact.
While travelling in India in ‘86, I met a Danish woman, Bodil. We met for only 24 hours but became pen-friends. The next year we met in Turkey and travelled together for a month. She came to Australia in ‘87 and we have been together ever since. The arrival of Anna in 1995 had a profound influence on my work at Ishka.
In 1995 we were invited to open a shop in Chadstone, Australia's most successful shopping mall. From this experience, we then decided to open in other shopping centres such as Knox City, Westfield Doncaster and Fountain Gate, Highpoint and Bayside in Frankston.
The Transformation Years: 2000 to the present
As we opened new stores across Victoria and spread our wings inter-state, a passion for international trade remained central to the ISHKA ethos.
Over time, it became evident that large, immersive warehouse spaces were needed so customers could fully experience our products. This was our motivation behind the opening of several warehouse locations based in Fitzroy, Nunawading and Geelong. Fitzroy was to become an iconic warehouse location for us, with many fond memories of our colourful staff and customers from over the years!
In 2013 we “got with the times” and launched our online store, giving customers the opportunity to purchase our beautiful products from wherever they are. Our website has been a huge labour of love, and it has been wonderful to see its continued success.
More recently, 2017 was a year of major transformation for us. ISHKA headquarters made the move from our beloved Fitzroy warehouse in 300 Nicholson St, to a massive site in Clayton. Here we opened our biggest furniture superstore and warehouse to date.
It’s been amazing to watch ISHKA grow across the years. What once was a humble craft studio has since evolved into an iconic collective of over 45 spectacular stores in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland.
Thank you so much for supporting ISHKA over the years and being part of our colourful ISHKA family. We do hope you stay with us on this wonderful journey, as we continue to bring the world to you into the future.