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Paula Stafford

Paula Stafford is credited with introducing the French two-piece swimming costume to Queensland and designing the world's first reversible bikini. She studied dress design during the late 1930s at Melbourne Technical College and the Emily Macpherson School of Domestic Economy.

In 1942 she and her husband moved to Queensland's Gold Coast, where they started a business hiring beach umbrellas, chairs and windbreaks and Surfers Paradise. Stafford made two-piece swimming costumes for herself and her children which attracted interest from local beachgoers. By the late 1940s Stafford had a thriving business catering to interstate tourists and offering a same-day-service of made-to-measure swimwear. She spent mornings on the beach taking orders and then sewed the garments in the attic of her Cavill Street home in Southport Beach, Surfers Paradise. Initially garments were made from furniture fabrics due rationing and shortages of more fashionable fabrics during World War II. Early designs had a napkin wrap swimwear bottom and a bandeau (strapless top).

Stafford's early bikinis were tied at the side or knotted at the front and were daringly brief compared to other swimwear on the Australian market. They challenged dress codes on Queensland and Sydney beaches where the French two-piece costume was banned in the late 1940s. In 1952 Sydney model Ann Ferguson wore a Stafford bikini to the beach at Surfers Paradise. Beach inspector John Moffat declared it was too brief to be worn in public. Ferguson told Stafford who arranged for Ferguson to return to the beach the next day with five other bikini clad models. Local press covered the confrontation which ensured publicity for Stafford and her controversial swimwear.

By the mid 1950s Stafford had opened a boutique, the Paula Stafford Fiesta Tog Shop, under her Cavill Street home and employed machinists to help with swimwear production.

In 1956 Stafford organised Australia's first bikini fashion parade as part of the Holiday and Travel Exhibition at Sydney's Town Hall. This led to parades in other states. By the late 1950s Stafford was supplying retailers such as David Jones, Myer, Georges and Buckleys as well as exporting to the Great Britain, the United States and Hong Kong. She also exported to New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. In the 1970s Stafford expanded her business interests into south east Asia. At the height of this business expansion, Stafford employed sixty people in her Gold Coast based business. Her bikinis were sold world wide competing favourably with French designs.

In 1985 Stafford retired from the business.