AFTER 41 years in retail, Michael Sklovsky is still travelling the globe and pushing traditional boundaries to bring a fresh edge to Australian shopping.
His new, bright green Warrnambool store gives some insight into his philosophy of weaving a theme of humanitarianism and environmentalism into retailing.
He travels two to three months a year buying craft products from villages in 40 developing countries to sell through his Ishka chain and provide an income stream for impoverished communities.
The chain, which started with a single Glen Iris shop in 1971, now has 22 stores.
“I think we are a trend leader in helping poor villages and selling ethically-approved products,” he told The Standard during a visit to Warrnambool for today’s grand opening of the Koroit-Kepler streets corner store.
“I believe in the value of life and am passionate about developmental politics.
“It’s a win-win — to give poor people skills and to sell their products to Western people.”
His journey into retailing started when he supported himself through a university science degree by making and selling handcraft.
It triggered a change in career paths and a buying trip to Indonesia in 1975 was the first of hundreds to far-flung villages, including refugee camps and minority groups in worn-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fortunately he was able to dodge Taliban hardliners under the command of Osama bin Laden. “I kept clear of his trading camps,” he said.
His frequent travels gave him plenty of inspiration to write for the Lonely Planet Guide, particularly on Pakistan, India, Morocco and North Africa.
Mr Sklovsky’s multi-cultural passion stems from his family upbringing — his father was a Russian immigrant who was a refugee five times before finding freedom in Australia.
The Ishka founder, chairman and key buyer will be in-store today, where celebrations include a hoola dancer and psychic reader.
His advice to other retailers grappling with the challenging economy is to make the most of every opportunity, negotiate reasonable rent, latch onto social media and trade seven days a week.