Our Story

The decade following the end of the Second World War was an exciting and prosperous time for Australian artists and designers. In the absence of imports from Europe and America, local talent was able to flourish. Australian Modernism emerged as a movement, influencing furniture design, architecture, visual arts, fashion and textiles.

1950's Australia also saw a boom in new suburbs and new homes, and people had money to spend on their interiors and furnishings. After the gloomy years of war, Australians wanted fresh, innovative designs and a glimpse of a more optimistic future. It was also the period that people first started to appreciate Aboriginal art and design within a broader artistic context.

There are few products from this period which are still a part of everyday Australian life. Most of them have become collectable retro classics such as Featherston Chairs and Fler sofas.

However, here is one notable exception - Rodriquez tea towels. With their unashamedly Australian designs, Rodriquez tea towels and aprons are just as much a part of the Australian home today, as they were in the 1950s.

The Rodriquez story begins while World War II was still raging. John Rodriquez was a student at Upwey High School where he first showed signs of his artistic talent. He won a scholarship to RMIT where he studied design and painting under the artist George Bell, a fierce proponent of the modern art movement.

John mixed his dyes in the household blender and used the kitchen table to screenprint his designs on handkerchiefs, greeting cards and placemats. Georges of Melbourne department store and The Primrose Pottery Shop in Little Collins Street were among the first customers. In 1952, John started the company that would become Rodriquez Pty Ltd. After two years he moved to a rented garage, then in 1957, he set up a small factory, where he began printing furnishing fabrics.

Early Rodriquez prints made bold use of colour and geometric patterns inspired by Scandinavian abstract design. He was also influenced by Aboriginal art and incorporated abstract aboriginal figures in many of his creations. He was among a handful of Australian textile designers, who were developing a new contemporary style that made bold, innovative use of colour.

 

The Rodriquez brand of printed textiles was soon selling in many retail outlets, including David Jones and Marion Best in NSW, as well as most interior decorating shops in Victoria. Some dress fabrics were printed exclusively for dress manufacturers, such as Georges' special summer range.

The 1956 Olympics Games was a pivotal moment in the history of Rodriquez. John's commemorative designs appeared on tea towels and fabrics. One print was used for skirts, and John is quoted as saying they had, "sold like hot cakes".

In 1972, Rodriquez Pty Ltd expanded to two factories and John decided to stop printing furnishing fabric to concentrate on producing tea towels and other table and kitchen gift items of a higher standard of design and colour. The company launched a range of new designs, many featuring Australian flora and fauna, printed on pure linen and cotton. Many of these designs continue to be produced today and remain some of the company's best-selling designs.

In 1974, John's son Rimian joined the company and worked alongside his father until John's retirement in 1988. Rim introduced elements of automation to the screen-printing process and expanded the Rodriquez range to include designs by many well-known artist and illustrators printed under license. In 1985, Rim and his wife Kay purchased the business and took over the operation of the company. 

Rimian and John Rodriquez

John Rodriquez passed away in 2000. It was the year that Australia would once again host an Olympic Games, this time in Sydney. Fittingly, it was the Rodriquez company that was appointed as the first official licensee to produce the commemorative tea towels.   

The influence on Australian textile design by Rodriquez is recognized and honoured by cultural institutions around Australia. The John Rodriquez Textile Collection at Museums Victoria includes John's hand-printed fabric designs, Christmas cards, wall hangings and of course tea towels in Australian flora and fauna designs. Examples of his work are also held by The National Gallery in Canberra and The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

2020 marks the start of a new chapter in the story of Rodriquez Pty Ltd, with the reigns of the company passing to Rim and Kay's daughter, Lacinta Rodriquez. As the company approaches its 70th anniversary in 2022, Rodriquez - The Tea Towel People, continues to build on its distinguished heritage as Australia's largest manufacturer of pure linen tea towels and a proud advocate of Made in Australia.