Made in Manayunk

Liz Galbraith and Ephi Paul reflect on more than 20 years in Manayunk paying homage to the neighborhood’s textile history.

By Leo Dillinger
Photography by Melissa Kelly

When reflecting back on Manayunk’s history, it’s impossible to ignore its longstanding reputation as a central hub for textile manufacturing. While that industry has since disappeared today in the 21st century, one company continues to honor the spirit of the neighborhood’s past, but with a modern and innovative spin.

Married couple and business partners Liz Galbraith and Ephraim “Ephi” Paul have spent more than two decades designing custom printed fabrics and wallpaper inside their Manayunk studio, a former textile mill, located at the corner of Cresson Street and Shurs Lane.

“This whole location is amazing,” Liz said. “We love that we’re tapping into the textile tradition of the area and continuing to pay homage to it but taking it to the next level.”

“We’re breathing new life into this building’s history and it’s amazing to be part of the next chapter of making and manufacturing in Philadelphia,” Ephi said. “This building is perfect for that.”

Liz and Ephi were both born and raised in Chicago, but moved to Philadelphia’s Old City in the mid 1980s. With a background in fine art, Liz knew that she wanted to open a studio to make crafts that were not only visually appealing, but functional as well. She soon found a space for rent nearby from notable Philadelphian Ted Newbold, which was once the workspace of Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi. Ted had shown Liz his collection of Noguchi’s iconic Akari paper lanterns. Feeling inspired and recalling her past interest in papermaking during her time in college, Liz realized in that moment she could make this type of craft in her own unique way.

Liz traveled to Japan to learn more about the papermaking process and upon her return to Philadelphia, Liz and Ephi generated a technique for creating their own line of paper lamps. They made the paper themselves using fibers imported from Asia, Liz designed the printed patterns, and they sourced all of the hardware for the lamps directly from local manufacturers in Philadelphia.

During that time, Liz and Ephi also happened to be neighbors with longtime custom wood furniture makers Jack Larimore and Bob Ingram, who introduced the couple to a network of trade shows and wholesale craft markets where they could sell their products. After displaying at their first show in 1986, stores began to recognize and makes purchases from the brand-new company: Galbraith & Paul.

“It was a totally process oriented product and Liz really innovated that traditional technique to create very interesting prints,” Ephi said. “We suddenly had a business, we had orders, and we started making them.”

By the late 90s, Liz and Ephi began to move away from paper-making as the couple saw a new path for their business. While visiting London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Liz perused through the traditional block printed fabric and textile collections from William Morris and Liberty of London. After studying them and the traditional processes by which they were made, Liz once again found a way to innovate a traditional craft for a modern market.

“With traditional Indian block printing, they would use carved wood, vegetable dyes, and pigments.” Liz said. “Our blocks are made of foam rubber that we laser-cut. We then apply the foam pieces to plexiglass, which is very lightweight so our printers can handle the blocks. We also use permanent fabric paint and create and mix all of our own colors.”

Galbraith & Paul began to sell handmade, block printed fabrics, and the new venture brought about a brand-new way of how they sold their product. With the paper lamps, Liz and Ephi sold directly to retail stores. As the fabric line became more developed, they soon learned to sell by the yard exclusively to the trade and to interior designers, which made the product more customizable and exposed it to a high-end clientele. By 2000, Galbraith & Paul had stopped making paper entirely as they completely shifted to fabric-making and began searching for a new space to house their operations.

Living in Lower Merion, Liz and Ephi were familiar with Manayunk. Driving through the neighborhood one day, they stumbled upon an available ground-floor space for rent at 116 Shurs Lane, which at the time was a dilapidated vacant furniture warehouse. Coincidentally, they discovered in their research that the site used to be known as “Byrne’s Mill”, a prominent former textile manufacturer in Manayunk. With the building’s history and proximity to the neighborhood’s thriving commercial corridor, Liz and Ephi were convinced Manayunk was the place they were meant to be.

“We were just drawn to the area,” Ephi said. “We had never really gone off of Main Street when we first came down here. We didn’t even think there was a neighborhood to it until that moment. But we fell in love with the space and we knew we wanted to be here.”

As the business grew over the years, so did the demand for more workspace. What started as a portion of ground-floor studio space soon expanded into the entire first and second floors of the building as the Galbraith & Paul products, designs, and brand became known throughout the world. Knowing they were here in Manayunk to stay, Liz and Ephi officially purchased the property in 2017.

Today, Galbraith & Paul offers high-end, custom-made fabrics, wallpaper, and rugs in 35 unique patterns and over 200 colors. In addition, they also make hand block printed pillows that are sold exclusively through Room & Board. Due to the high demand for their quality products, Liz and Ephi estimate their lead time for fabric orders averages around 12 to 14 weeks.

“Part of what is special about us is that we do everything under one roof,” Ephi said. “Liz designs all of the patterns with her team. We make our own blocks, we develop our own colors and mix our own paints, and we’ve developed this innovative way of hand-blocking it. It’s very homegrown and unique and it’s all done right here.”

Galbraith & Paul would not be where it is today if not for the team that helps perform this elaborate process. The company currently employs 20 skilled artisans who specialize in everything from design to hand-block printing to paint mixing to laser printing and digital wallpaper production. Liz focuses more on the design and craftsmanship side while Ephi handles business administration. But for the Galbraith & Paul power couple, a work-life balance has always been a key factor for their work.

“Our business is very values-driven. It always has been,” Liz said. “We’ve always worked a 4-day work week and we’re really committed to employing artists. We provide health insurance, retirement, and vacation so we’re not doing the 4-day week to make this job part time. We’re doing it to allow people to have time to do the things that they love in life and bring that energy back into the work environment.”

One of Galbraith & Paul’s taglines is “Dedicated to the studio workshop tradition, evolving in new and unexpected ways.” The sentiment rings true as Liz and Ephi aren’t afraid to break new grounds and experiment with new ways of improving their processes. Liz finds inspiration all around her when it comes to creating new patterns, from the plants in her garden to traditional textiles, and blending them in a transitional way that bridges to any type of design style.

“When I’m working on a design, I often hone it down to its very simple components because I like to have something that touches on a bunch of traditions but doesn’t land in any,” Liz said. “It can then be at home in a lot of different kinds of environments.”

Looking ahead to what the future has in store, Liz and Ephi have plans to construct their very own trade showroom on the second floor of their building to display their products for their design clients. And for the first time since 2019, they will finally host their annual Sample Sale again on Saturday, December 3rd from 10AM to 5PM. This holiday shopping event not only gives customers the opportunity to purchase pillows, wallpaper, and fabric directly from the studio where these items are created, but there will also be a boutique-style setup that highlights the work of both current and former employees.

Galbraith & Paul’s dedication to their craft shines through all aspects of their work. Despite the building’s unassuming exterior, their studio holds the stories of Manayunk’s industrial past and upholds the neighborhood’s legacy as a nucleus for makers and creators. Liz and Ephi love many aspects about Manayunk, from supporting the small businesses on Main Street to the proximity to the river and their home in Lower Merion to the accessibility via public transportation for their employees. But what they love the most about this neighborhood is that they get to honor these traditions of their trade while simultaneously continuing to innovate and create in a place that has always allowed its makers to thrive.
“Philadelphia is a really nice place for people in creative and innovative fields because there is a large community, it’s affordable, and it’s accessible,” Liz said. “There’s such a strong creative spirit here.”

“And we see that with our team,” Ephi said. “We have so many artists here who are actively doing their thing. It’s really nice to be connected to that. We may be a business, but we’re a business of makers. This neighborhood and this building for us is a nexus of things that we really believe in and are about. It’s a great place to make things.”