THE EN­DUR­ING SWANNI

North & South - - Cover Story -

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.

A bach on Ran­gi­toto Is­land.

The sturdy Swan­ndri was launched in 1913 by New Ply­mouth tex­tile dealer Wil­liam Henry Broome.

Some of the Swan­ndri shirt range.

Fash­ion de­signer Karen Walker and her “Runaway Girl” mo­tif (be­low).

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