THE ENDURING SWANNI
Of all the New Zealand fashion labels that have endured – think Karen Walker, WORLD, Zambesi and NOM*D for starters – one name has outlived them all: the Swanndri.
The sturdy bush shirt was launched in 1913 by New Plymouth textile dealer William Henry Broome, who recognised that the clothing often worn by farmers and forestry workers wasn’t protecting them from the extremes of weather in which they often worked, and set about designing something that would keep them warm and dry.
“In product testing, he observed how water beaded on the wool and ran off it like water off a swan’s back – so the spelling of the brand name was quite creative for that time,” says current Swanndri CEO Mark Nevin. More than a century on, the “very basic design – it’s just a big T” has morphed into a range with 200 colours and styles, but the conventional checked bush shirt remains a big, although not top, seller.
Although older New Zealanders readily identify the “Swanni” as archetypal Kiwi bloke-wear, the same can’t be said of younger generations, says Nevin. “When we did research in 2015, 49% of Aucklanders had never heard of it. It tells us that the demographics and psychographics of our consumer base have changed. We would typically have regarded ourselves as wellknown, but that’s changed, and that’s to do with immigration; we have a task to tell them about Swanndri.”
Swanndris sold strongly into the 1980s, when sales began to flag under the onslaught of international brands, but Nevin says they’ve recovered since 2005 as the company has sold its message that the brand is bigger than one style.
“Our traditional, provincial market has got smaller, and urban markets have got much larger. If we continued to focus on providing our heritage styles, the business wouldn’t survive, so we’ve been very careful to develop products that are more relevant to urban consumers.”
Although New Zealand wool is still used in the shirts, the garments are now produced in China.
More than a century on, the “very basic Swanndri design – it’s just a big T” has morphed into a range with 200 colours and styles.