The iconic boot maker R.M. Williams is officially Australian owned again, after an investment group headed by billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his wife, Nicola purchased the company.
Tattarang acquired the 88-year-old company from US private equity firm L Catterton, bringing it back under Australian ownership for the first time since 2014. An expert believes Forrest will likely leverage his existing China connections to capitalise on its popularity with Chinese consumers.
Mr. and Mrs. Forrest said they looked forward to meeting the almost 900 RM Williams staff based in Australia, including 400 workers at its workshop in Salisbury, Adelaide.
“R.M. Williams is a quintessential Aussie brand with a long and proud history of high-quality Australian craftsmanship,” mining magnate Mr. Forrest said in a statement released on Tattarang’s website.
“Andrew and I want to continue the legacy of this great company, and that means continuing to employ and support the Australians that have built and grown the brand,” Mrs. Forrest said in the same statement.
“By bringing R.M. Williams back into Australian hands, we will ensure the Australian craftsmanship continues to be loved and worn all around the world,” she added.
R.M. Williams was founded in 1932 by bushman and entrepreneur Reginald Murray ‘R.M.’ Williams and is one of Australia’s most iconic brands.
Mr. Forrest, who grew up on Minderoo Station in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, said R.M. Williams was deeply entrenched within Australian culture.
“To wear R.M.s is to wear the boots of the countless hard-working Australians that have come before us,” he said.
L Catterton had been looking for a buyer for R.M. Williams since May last year, with a mooted price of up to $500 million. Tattarang paid $190 million for the brand, according to the Australian Financial Review.
R.M. Williams provided the outfits for the 2008 outback film epic, Australia, which starred Hugh Jackman and Oscar winner Nicole Kidman.
Jackman has a stake in the company and was its brand ambassador, a position he is expected to retain.
Forrest’s Tattarang is on the lookout for more iconic Australian brands and experiences.
“In the context of the current government policy to encourage manufacturing in Australia, it is a sensible approach. The Australian government focus on rebuilding the economy by buying local will help,” Dr. Rob Nicholls, associate professor at the University of New South Wales said.
“There are potential synergies from this as a domestic retail play. However, the portfolio of brands is likely to have a bigger impact in export sectors,” Nicholls told The Epoch Times on Oct. 19.
R.M. Williams is already exported and promoted heavily to Chinese consumers during major shopping festivals including Singles’ Day, an online shopping event in China similar to Boxing Day in Australia, or Black Friday in the United States.
The billionaire’s extensive Chinese business operations and relationships will likely assist R.M. Williams’ future in China.
Forrest is no stranger to the spotlight with his entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and controversy.
In 2018, Forrest launched Global Rapid Rugby, a brand-new rugby competition after his favourite Western Force rugby team was removed from the regional Super Rugby competition following its downsizing.
Forrest attracted criticism for his Chinese connections earlier this year when he unexpectedly invited the Melbourne Chinese Consul-General Zhou Lang to speak at a press conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt (allegedly catching the minister by surprise).
The press event was to announce the acquisition of 10 million virus testing kits as well as pathology equipment by Forrest’s charity, the Minderoo Foundation, from the China-based BGI Group.