“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 our nine decades of existence, R.M.Williams has become one of the best-known – and best-loved – footwear brands in the world. Originally built for the men and women of the rugged, unforgiving Australian outback, our iconic one-piece-leather boots have gone on to grace the feet of millions of people, including some of the most famous on the planet.
Aged just 15, RM packs a swag and abandons 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, camel driver and manual labourer, among a range of other occupations.
When the Great Depression hit and work dried up, RM headed back to Adelaide in hope of finding employment. He met and married Thelma Cummings and began a family, but he wanted to leave the city again.
R.M.Williams is Established
Having learned leatherworking skills from a passing horseman known as Dollar Mick in the Flinders Ranges, RM resolves to try his hand at producing leather goods. His first success comes by selling saddles to the owner of a group of cattle stations, which enables RM to set up shop in his father’s shed at 5 Percy Street in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect in 1934. This location, still one of our retail outlets, now hosts the R.M.Williams Outback Heritage Museum.
The R.M.Williams company grows apace, developing a reputation across South Australia and beyond for our high quality products. The company is producing a wide range of leather goods, but is finding particular success with its range of riding boots.
The feature that sets RM’s boots apart from competitors stems from his aptitude for leatherwork. The upper of the boots is constructed using a single piece of leather, a method that enhances durability and creates a timeless, clean look. This production technique remains a staple of R.M.Williams styles today.
Any financial worries RM has about the long-term viability of his leatherwork business is calmed by a stroke of incredible luck when he buys a small mine and strikes 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 continues, expanding into hats and clothing inspired by the outback and the bushmen who work on the land. Boots, however, remain the company’s staple.
During this time, RM remarries, and once and for all bids farewell to city life, selling the former Governor’s mansion he had been living in and moving to a derelict property he named Rockybar in Queensland. Rockybar becomes a great source of pride for RM, and over the next five decades he restores it to a working property as well as a beloved family home.
“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 begins to step back from the business, but still remains an invaluable source of information on everything from leather working to retaining the brand’s trademark ruggedness and dedication to individuality.
In 1988 RM sells the business and in 1989 the first London store opens.
With the investment of L Capital, in conjunction with IFM and a new investment partner Hugh Jackman, the business continues to drive towards RM’s vision of creating a global brand, reflecting its iconic status. The brand identity is updated – appropriately using a typeface inspired by the 1940s catalogues, to maintain authenticity. The product line and stores are in the process of being updated, and the new Adelaide boot has been introduced.
The Adelaide is inspired in part by the equestrian Wimmera boot created some 20 years previously as the definitive women’s jodhpur boot. The Adelaide provides women with a lighter, more elegant alternative to the Craftsman.
The business moves strongly into best practice e-Commerce, to help expand its global sales of footwear and leather craft for which demand continues to grow internationally.
Discover more in the fascinating Reginald Murray (RM) Williams autobiography, Beneath Whose Hand, written with Olaf Ruhen.