Swanndri: the fabric
There would be very few New Zealanders of a certain age who have ventured into the wilderness to kill something, lambed a ewe, felled a tree, made a snowman or watched Woodlands vs. Blues on a cold Saturday afternoon in Invercargill and not donned a Swanny at some point in their lives. And the classic Kiwi brand is still going strong 100 years after the first one-size-fits-all garments were made in Taranaki by a savvy chap called William Broome.
Broome, who arrived in New Zealand from England around 1894, saw a gap in the market in 1913. At the time, the options for warm, dry gear for men of the land were limited, so he developed an all-weather woollen over-shirt that was weatherproofed (but not waterproofed) with the help of his secret formula.
Broome was a savvy marketer. He put a Swanndri-wearing mannequin outside his shop, where it remained no matter how inclement the weather, and at the various shows where he displayed his wares, he would place a Swanndri in a crate filled with water. According to his grandson Bob Bowler, “it would last four days before the water got through. He was a good salesman, obviously.”
Broome also designed and registered the distinctive Swanndri trademark. And the picture of the swan and the strange spelling of the name have endured many changes to fashion trends and many different company owners. In fact, the Swanny is one of those classic brands—like Frisbee or Rollerblade—that has almost become a generic term for a heavy bush shirt.
As seen in the images, many a good Kiwi bloke has been kept toasty (and slightly itchy) over the years, such as Barry Crump, Tim Shadbolt, Colin Meads and, most recently, brand mascot Marc Ellis. But it’s long been known as attire for the everyman, as some of the classic shots of Swanndri moments that were sent in by its Facebook fans for a recent competition.
In an effort to stay in business, Swanndri has adapted, launching a new, more modern range (often incorporating the classic coloured check fabric that was introduced in the 1960s), creating garments for the ladies and signing up for partnerships with the likes of Karen Walker and, most recently, Barkers. So, all going well, Swanndri will be around for another hundred years. It will just have more customers from the urban jungle.