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Swan­ndri: the fab­ric

of society

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.

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