For Kiwis hailing from farming or equestrian backgrounds, R.M.Williams will not be an unfamiliar brand, but its arrival in the central city and growing high-fashion empire may come as a surprise.
The company was founded in 1932 by one Reginald Murray Williams, who found a way to create hard-wearing boots out of a single piece of leather. He advertised the result in Adelaide’s Chronicle newspaper in 1934, and the rest is history.
The business came to be known for its catalogue and expanded significantly within Australia, arriving on the global stage when former US president Bill Clinton wore a pair of R.M.Williams boots to his inauguration ceremony in 1993.
In 2013, 49.9 percent of the company was bought by luxury conglomerate LVMH’s private equity and venture capital arm, L Capital. Later, the consortium of L Capital and global fund manager IFM Investors acquired the residual stake from owner Ken Cowley, a long-time friend of the founder. Australian-born Hollywood star Hugh Jackman later took on a share in the company as well.
With its new ownership has come an updated brand identity. Over the last few years, R.M.Williams has started to follow in the footsteps of its prestigious stablemates. It has broadened its appeal to include townies and fashionists from around the globe, and now exports to 15 countries. This is supported by an increased focus on ecommerce and by the London flagship – surprisingly, R.M.Williams’ bricks and mortar presence in London dates from 1989.
The company has 36 existing retail stockists across New Zealand but has long been considering establishing a bricks and mortar store in Wellington, says chief executive officer Raju Vuppalapati.
“Wellington is a beautiful town, where the weather is often tough yet it doesn’t dampen the spirit or the lifestyle of the people. This type of environment is perfect for R.M.Williams’ products, which are purposely built from the boots up, to last a lifetime.
We have been watching Wellington’s economy including the growth in GDP, house prices, and retail and feel it is an environment that will continue to strengthen, and that is something we want to be a part of.”
The 136 square metre store at 75 Willis St Corner will carry most of R.M.Williams’ products, including newly-introduced core products like the women’s Adelaide boot.
Its fit-out follows an interior design concept created by Australian experience design company e2, which was first executed in Melbourne’s Doncaster store. In a nod to the brand’s legacy, the store is meant to feel like a high-end interpretation of a heritage woolshed.
Features include a timber shopfront and a long boot display table with copper plating, complemented by steel framework for product to hang on which was inspired by stockyard fencing.
A lighting fixture modeled off the overhanging fixtures of feed troughs at sheep and horse stations hangs above the boot display table.
Sustainable design principles have informed the store’s design, with recyclable and sustainably-sourced materials dominating. The lighting and digital equipment also make use of energy-efficient technology.
As well as the Wellington store, R.M.Williams is opening flagships in London, New York and Auckland this year – Auckland’s opening in July came barely a month after the Wellington store welcomed customers in on June 4. Its site is 176 square metres in size, and is located in a prime spot at the corner of Queen St and Customs St.
In keeping with its position as a flagship, the Auckland R.M.Williams boasts a bespoke footwear service allowing customers to choose their preferred boot style, leathers and finishings.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 745 August/September 2016