The brand originated in Australia in 1917. Berlei undergarments are now sold in Australia by Pacific Brands and in the United Kingdom by Courtaulds Textiles.
Berlei conducted a research project to quantify Australian ‘figure types’.
The name came from that of the firm’s founder, Frederick Richard Burley, who felt that his name as normally spelt was not contextually appropriate to his products.
Berlei Limited was one of the first Australian companies to expand outside Australia. Berlei (New Zealand) Limited was incorporated in 1923 and Berlei (U.K.) Limited was organised in 1930.
Frederick R. Burley (29 May 1885, Hamilton, Victoria – 26 May 1954, Wahroonga, New South Wales) was the founder of Berlei.
Burley was a pioneer in employee relations and an accomplished public citizen, holding office in the Rotary Club and contributing to other worthy organizations. In the custom of Rotary he would introduce himself to other clubs with his name, his club, and his occupation as a “maker of jewel caskets”.
In 1923 he founded the Australia Made Preference League and served as the first president of the League. The League created the Great White Train as a promotional tool for early Australian industries.
He travelled widely to learn business and trade information, to make business partnerships, and to get materials for his factories.
History of Berlei Limited and associated companies
Berlei Limited was started (in 1910) as a company called Unique Corsets in Sydney, Australia after Fred Burley discovered that the corset business was profitable and that the wholesale segment of the business could be prosecuted on an import replacement basis. Burley made his first overseas business trip to the US in 1913 to research methods and investigate the use of machinery of the time. The ‘frenchified’ brand name of Berlei was conceptualized soon after and was registered in Australia in 1917. (While this might reasonably be accordingly pronounced after the French style as ‘bur-LAY’, it is commonly still pronounced as if written ‘burley’.) United Corsets became Berlei Limited in 1920.
The original factory was in Wilmot Street, Sydney with additional space being used in Liverpool Street.
In January 1922, the factory was moved to Berlei House in Regent Street.
Fred Burley’s vision for the company was “To Design and Manufacture Corsets and Brassieres of such perfect Fit, Quality, and Workmanship, as will bring pleasure and profit to all concerned, while at the same time rendering such excellent service to our Clients and Consumers as will merit their permanent patronage”.
Berlei’s approach to marketing was professional.
Berlei (NZ) Limited
Berlei (New Zealand) Limited was started in 1923 with a staff of fifty growing to 665 employees in 1961.
Bendon Berlei Limited merged with Ceramco Apparel Group Limited on 8 April 1981.
Berlei (UK) Limited
A branch of the Australian company was opened in the United Kingdom in 1930 with staff of forty. The company grew to a staff of 702 in 1961.
A ‘modern’ factory was built in Slough in 1937, it was demolished in 1984.
Berlei (UK) was purchased from Berlei Hestia of Australia in 1982
Berlei (UK) called in a receiver in November 1985,subsequently it was purchased by Courtaulds Textiles.
In March 2000, Courtaulds Textiles was sold to Sara Lee. Sara Lee sold Courtaulds Textiles to Hong Kong-based PD Enterprise Limited in May 2006.
The movie Undercover was made about the early years of the Berlei company and the life of Frederick R Burley.