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Blog/Brand Bible/RM Williams History
“You can screw them up and do what you like. You can't destroy them. We hope they'll wear a long time yet. These boots are made for people who are specialists. People who expect them to last."
In its eight decades of existence, RM Williams have become of the best-known - and best-loved - footwear brands in the world. Originally aimed at the intrepid explorer of the rugged, unforgiving Australian Outback, their prestigious whole-cut leather boots have gone on to grace the feet of millions of Australians, including numerous Prime Ministers.
This is the story of this incredible brand and the remarkable man who founded it.
Reginald Murray Williams is born in rural North Belalie in the state of South Australia. RM’s father was a pioneer settler who lived a quintessential Outback life working with horses.
The Williams family move to the city of Adelaide so their children could receive an education, but young RM disliked city life and yearned to return to the bush.
Aged just 15, RM packed a swag and abandoned the urban landscape in favour of a life in the Outback.
"Life, as I came to know it, revolved round feeding the horses, preparing them for work and making the implements they were to haul."
“The Australian stockmen recognised me as one of their own. My story was their story, a camel man, stockman, well sinker, workmate.”
RM embraced everything the Australian bush had to offer, working countless jobs and travelling far and wide. His career saw him work as a limeburner, a camel driver and a manual labourer, among a range of other occupations.
When the Great Depression hit and work dried up, Williams headed back to Adelaide in hope of finding employment. He met and married Thelma Ena Cummings and began a family, but he quickly developed a desire to once again leave the city.
Having learned some leatherworking skills from a passing horseman known as Dollar Mick, RM resolved to try his hand at producing leather goods. His first success came by selling saddles to the owner of a group of cattle stations, which enabled Williams to set up shop in his father’s shed at 5 Percy Street in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect. This location now plays host to the RM Williams Outback Heritage Museum.
The RM Williams company grew apace, developing a reputation across South Australia and beyond for their high quality products. At this stage, the company was producing a wide range of leather goods, but was finding particular success with its range of riding boots.
The feature that set RM's boots apart from competitors stemmed from his aptitude for leatherwork. The upper of the boots was constructed using a single piece of leather, a method that enhanced durability and created a timeless, clean look. This production technique remains a staple of RM Williams styles to this day.
Any financial worries RM had about the long-term viability of his leatherwork business were calmed by a stroke of incredible luck when he bought a small mine and struck gold - literally. “I used to stagger down the street to the bank with these bags of gold, a shotgun each side, and thinking I was pretty important."
The company’s success continued, expanding into hats and clothing inspired by the Outback and bushmen who worked the land. Boots, however, remained the company's staple.
During this time, RM remarried, and once and for all bade farewell to city life, selling the former Governor’s mansion he had been living in and moving into a derelict property he named Rockybar in Queensland.
Rockybar became a great source of pride for RM, and over the next five decades he restored it to a working ranch as well as a beloved family home.
One of RM Williams' longest-established styles is the Craftsman. The boot boasts a design that embodies many of the features that has made the brand so famous the world over.
A Chelsea boot, the Craftsman showcases the brand's whole-cut construction technique, where a single piece of full grain yearling leather is used for the entirety of the upper. This not only lends the boot an extremely sleek appearance, but also offers durability and serves as a telling reminder of the craftsmanship that has gone into creating it.
This upper is then connected to the leather sole unit with a Goodyear welt for a water-tight construction that has served bushmen in the Outback well for decades. The Craftsman is still made by hand in RM Williams' native Australia, as are the rest of the brand's boots.
The first RM Williams retail location outside of Adelaide is opened in Toowoomba in 1978, followed by more stores in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. RM now operates a number of prestigious flagship stores across the globe in various style capitals, including London.
Differing from the Craftsman in terms of its toe box, the Turnout utilises a more traditional Western rounded toe box rather than the Craftsman’s chisel toe.
Like its illustrious sibling, the Turnout has become a beloved piece of smart-casual style that has only increased in popularity as the years have gone by.
Offering the same silhouette as the Turnout, as the Gardener boot’s name suggests it offers some slight tweaks on the RM Williams formula.
It utilises greasy kip leather rather than yearling for some added durability, while the smooth leather sole is replaced with a lugged rubber unit for more traction on slippery surfaces.
“If you make something good, people will make a track to your door. We made simple things that people wanted and kept them simple.”
RM gradually began to step back from the business during the 1980s, but still remained an invaluable source of information on everything from leather working to retaining the brand’s trademark ruggedness and dedication to individuality.
RM passes away aged 95, leaving behind an incredible legacy and a company in as strong a position as it had ever enjoyed.
RM Williams continue to produce all of their boots domestically in Australia, using the same time-tested method of production by hand that has seen their boots develop a reputation for being some of the world’s most durable and most stylish.
The 42nd President of the United States left office in 2001 with a record high approval rating and it all began when he was inaugurated in a pair of RMs.
Like RM, Kidman is one of Oz’s most famous exports, so it’s only natural that the Oscar-winning actress is a fan of the brand’s boots.
The American crooner is reputedly such a fan that he has explored the options of opening his own franchise store.
Bob Dylan's band
Musical legend Dylan’s music has taken on a country-inspired tone on recent albums, so it’s only right that his backing band all sport an iconic piece of Outback folklore.
Australia Prime Ministers
A succession of holders of Australia’s highest office have sworn by RMs, including Tony Abbott and his predecessor Kevin Rudd.
Like RM, Kidman is one of Oz’s most famous exports, so it’s only natural the Oscar-winning actress is a fan of the brand’s boots.
Images courtesy of RM Williams, Juicy Design, the Federalist, Geni, AllMusic and Japan Today.