Founded in 1932 by Reginald Murray Williams, the brand R.M. Williams is one of our country’s most recognised lifestyle brands, sitting comfortably next to the likes of other iconic brand names like Akubra, Driza-Bone, and Hard Yakka on the world stage.
Like a lot of iconic Australian brands that were launched in the era of the depression and World War II, Williams’ company has stood the test of time, successfully reiterating and reinventing itself to maintain relevance but keeping the humble outback culture that makes it relatable to folks living on the land – its original target market.
Today the company exports to 15 countries, has over 900 stockists, and has a network of over 50 of its own retail stores.
Not too dissimilar to tech startup stories that we read about today, R.M.Williams also began in a shed – an iron wool shed behind Reginald’s parents’ house, to be specific. From there, without any working capital, just the knowledge of how to work with leather, he took out advertisements in the rural media informing communities of his new boot making service, asking people to send their requirements and orders along with cash to his ‘factory’, creating perhaps Australia’s first mail order shoe service.
It is funny nowadays that we speak about ‘bespoke’ as being something new and different. Yes, it is true that companies like Shoes of Prey, Mon Purse, Institchu and Social Order have made the ‘customised’ process more efficient and scalable, but it would probably do us well to recognise that essentially all that has happened in reality is technology has enabled the clothing and accessories sector to come full circle; the only difference is that bespoke creations have no capped capacity anymore due to technology.
Still, it’s exciting none the less as for the most part, millennials and most of Gen X grew up in a period of mass production; the concept of being able to buy something unique from a well-known brand has been, for the decades that we have walked this earth, reserved for celebrities on red carpets. Not anymore.
Earlier this year R.M.Williams launched its BESPOKE service online, where customers can log on and create their own pair of unique leather boots to be sent out to them, because “if there is anything better than a pair of iconic R.M.Williams, it is a pair you have designed yourself”. It’s interesting that this type of innovation could be seen in two ways: a legacy company embracing technology or as a company getting back to its roots.
The idea of the company getting back to its roots was something that company CEO Raju Vuppalapati made a point of in an interview with Marketing Magazine’s Peter Roper earlier this year, where the pair were talking about the company’s plans around international expansion.
“What we’re trying to do is, to start with, be sure that the brand is positioned so that it resonates not just in Australia but around the world, and we started by really going back to the provenance of RM Williams,” Vuppalapati said.
The BESPOKE service follows a similar pattern to that of other players in the create-your-own space. Users choose their sizing, leather colours and materials, as well as other finishing touches to their boots before submitting their order, and then receive their new pair of boots within an eight week timeframe.
It is a move that seems to be working for the brand and given that department stores like David Jones, Myers, Nordstrom, and Selfridges have all started to integrate create-your-own technologies into their store footprint with brands like Mon Purse and Shoes of Prey – though Shoes of Prey has now left Nordstrom to go back to online-only – it will be interesting to see how the already established footprint of R.M.Williams within the department store environment evolves as it begins to take a hyper customer-centric focus around its core product offering.
Featured Image: R.M.Williams Boot Wall | Source: R.M.Williams Facebook Page