Mathers Shoes

Mathers Shoes is one of Queensland’s longest running retailers, beginning as a family business in Ipswich in the 1920s before expanding in to a national retail empire.

Interior of Mathers Shoes, Brisbane Street, Ipswich, ca. 1960Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council

Who: Mathers Shoes

What: A national chain of footwear stores stocking local and international shoe brands.

When: 1923 – present

Where: The first Mathers store was located on Nicholas Street in Ipswich, Queensland. Stores in Brisbane City and Fortitude Valley were followed by a store in Toowoomba. Mathers now has approximately 70 stores throughout Australia.

Why: Mathers is one of the longest running Queensland retailers, and remained a family-owned business until the late 20th century.

Mathers was established by William Mathers in 1923. Before starting his own business, William gained retail experience, working in a Brisbane shoe store and at Beirne’s department store in Ipswich. He later studied business and after borrowing money for his first store, Mathers Shoes was born. Catering to men and women, Mathers Shoes stocked good quality footwear brands with an emphasis on affordable prices.

By the 1930s William had expanded his business to include a stores in Brisbane, Fortitude Valley, and Toowoomba. Mathers Shoes had its own concession store within Curzons, a mid-century Queen Street department store. Mathers also took part in fashion parades during the 1930s, held at The Carlton Hotel. These glamorous events featured fashion from Edwards and Lamb department store.

The business was a local success, and continued to expand. By 1945 William’s son, Sir Robert Mathers, came on board as a sales assistant. It was the beginning of a new direction and greater success for Mathers Shoes.

By 1960, Robert had become general manager and director of Mathers. William remained involved in the business until his death in 1973, when Robert was appointed chairman of the company.

Robert was heavily involved in the local community and politics. He was also head of the Retailers Association of Queensland, and consequently deeply connected to the local industry. He was knighted in recognition for these contributions in 1981.

It was during this time that Mathers Shoes had a regular television segment presented by Di Cant on Channel 9. The five minute spot was a fashion and footwear showcase, featuring items from Mathers as well as other retailers. In addition, Mathers operated a Brisbane store dedicated to European imports; one of the first of its kind in the city, it stockedbrands such as Sergio Rossi and Charles Jourdan.

When Robert retired in 1990, Mathers boasted 280 locations, employing a staff of 2000. Shortly thereafter, it was bought out by the now defunct Colorado Group. The Mathers empire continues, with approximately 70 stores currently operating across the country.

Despite its continuing success as a mainstay footwear retailer in shopping centres throughout the country, Mathers is a much smaller enterprise than during its family-run heyday. The family footwear connection can today be found elsewhere: William Mathers’ granddaughter, and Robert’s daughter, Tracey Mathers, has had her own successful eponymous shoe retail business in Brisbane’s Tattersalls Arcade since the 1990s. Her other Queensland stores are located in Hamilton, Camp Hill, and Chevron Island. Tracey got her start, much like her father, working on the shop floor for Mathers Shoes from the age of 14.

Mathers Shoe Store advertisement, 1935
Mathers Shoe Store advertisement, 1935
Mathers Shoes store in a New South Wales shopping centre, 2006
Mathers Shoes store in a New South Wales shopping centre, 2006Rob Chandler
Queen Street, Brisbane, 1939 (Mathers shoe store in the foreground)
Queen Street, Brisbane, 1939 (Mathers shoe store in the foreground)
Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931
Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 102522
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Published in , on March 11, 2014.