Paula Stafford was born in 1920 and grew up in rural Victoria where, through a love of weaving wool into fabrics, she had her first business experience, making scarves and belts for family friends.
Also while still at school, her talents for sketching and drawing plans convinced her that she would pursue a career in architecture. While this was not to be, her flair for design and love of fabrics were to remain central to her subsequent success as an internationally recognised fashion designer and manufacturer.
Settling on the Gold Coast in 1943, Paula had 4 children in 5 years, established a beach hire business with her husband, Beverley, and was soon creating beachwear upon request. The fashion business grew rapidly as did her reputation both within Australia and internationally where her products were sold in hundreds of shops. Her initial fame was largely due to controversy provoked by the Paula Stafford bikini, the first of which she produced in 1952, having designed a two-piece swimsuit as early as 1936.
While she was not the inventor of the bikini, she popularised it in Australia, and used the attendant publicity to build a full-range fashion offering for men and women. Her success and reputation expanded with the rapid growth of the Gold Coast which equally benefitted from her promotional flair. Her products were stocked by the leading retailers in Sydney and Melbourne as well as in London and the United States. International and interstate visitors were attracted to her products and to visit her business in Surfers Paradise by her brilliant use of fabric, colour and visionary design.
Quite apart from these gifts, Paula’s entrepreneurial flair is highlighted by her innovative business model, developed to cater for a transient tourist clientele – measure, design, create and deliver all on the same day. This service-focussed model remains cutting-edge thinking more than 50 years later. Apart from her promotional contribution to the Gold Coast’s development, Paula, for many decades, has been a generous contributor to, and supporter of, a wide range of charitable and community organisations.
A perfectionist who was prepared to work 18 hours a day in leading and developing her business, Paula Stafford regards her greatest achievement as transforming resort wear and building a complete design and manufacturing service that catered to individual clients, department stores and boutiques around the world. It is significant that her achievements were accomplished in an era when it was difficult for women to build such a distinctive business with national and international reach.