The Business of Family

‘AUSTRALIAN MADE’ MAKES A COMEBACK — THE RM WILLIAMS STORY


RM Williams the brand is synonymous with Australian culture. There’s not a farm in the country that doesn’t have a pair of their boots stationed outside the front door — well-worn and with many stories to tell (if boots could talk). So it seemed a bit of a loss for us proud Aussies when the once family-owned company was sold off-shore to LVMH group back in 2013… This business entity was then rolled into a private equity firm called L Catterton and the RM Williams brand was just one of their many assets. 

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME 

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. After years of trying to establish this iconic Australian product in overseas markets, Catterton put it up for sale again back in 2019. Late last year, it was bought by investment company Tattarang, owned by mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, and his wife Nicola Forrest, returning it to Australian (and family) ownership. 

And to further cement their status as local heroes within the community, the couple have made it clear that they will focus on maintaining local manufacturing, particularly for the boots and will “work-through” the idea of moving all manufacturing to be 100% onshore. Currently only 1- 2% of products are made overseas, which isn’t a huge portion but there still is a definite sentiment of wanting the entire product line to be made and produced in Australia. It’s certainly a priority for Tattarang’s chief investment officer, John Hartman who recently made a point to mention that “in this time of reflection on our manufacturing base, we’re committed to maintaining the Australian manufacturing focus.” He also noted that it had been “dwindling for the last 25 years and going offshore, but with the COVID-19 pandemic people are starting to realise we need to bring it back.” It might make the price point slightly higher but Tattarang is confident that the notoriety of the brand among Australian consumers will overcome that tiny hurdle…

AN APPETITE FOR AUSTRALIAN MADE

There have been many monumentally awful side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when we begin to look closely at changing consumer trends — we see some silver linings too. One of the most shiny of these is the simple fact that through businesses struggling and import/export diminishing people are understanding the importance of supporting our locally made products. In fact, according to this article published by the ABC, Australia Made chief executive Ben Lazzaro said the coronavirus pandemic had created demand for goods that would support Australian jobs — despite the extra cost of buying Australian-made products. So really, it couldn’t have been a better time for Tattarang to swoop in and buy up this incredibly iconic Australian brand. AND they couldn’t have more support than they do right now, in doing whatever they need to, to bring 100% of the manufacturing back onto Australian soil. 

Lazzaro has reportedly seen a 300% increase in traffic across the Australian Made social media channels which indicates this real “pro-Australian sense in the marketplace at the moment”. In this way, Australian owned and made products have been given a gift, with the border closures forcing consumers to think more deeply about their purchases and how what they buy may affect the country they love so much. It’s quite special to see how patriotic us Aussies can be when things are looking a bit dire…it’s an interesting time of discovery for consumers. Or, as Lazzaro puts it, in much fancier business speak; “we’ve had an over-reliance on imported products and now is the opportunity to address that imbalance and shift the needle back to local.” 

FUNCTIONAL AND STYLISH

Well, whether it’s for fashion or function — there’s no question that the RM Williams products are top-shelf. And honestly, though we know they’re great, the fact that they’re nearly 100% Australian made wasn’t really a deciding element in our purchaser journey previously. But, like the rest of the country, we do genuinely feel a sense of responsibility to help our home-made brands remain that way. RM Williams is a real cautionary tale, most would never know that for a brief period of time, the company that OOZES Aussie culture wasn’t actually even Australian-owned. So no longer will we look at the ‘appearance’ of a brand and assume it’s locally owned without knowing FOR SURE. Not only this, but in the wake of the economic struggle we’ve all been through (and many of us are still going through), it is important to be educated and mindful of where the products we buy are made. We want to not only support our country through tough times but also through thriving times.  

Learn more about RM Williams.

Words: Phoebe Carden
Photography: RM Williams

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