Economy

RM Williams sold to Louis Vuitton: Five things you didn’t know about the iconic company

Patrick Stafford /

RM Williams has been sold to a capital equity group backed by fashion giant Louis Vuitton, the iconic Australian manufacturer and retailer confirmed yesterday after weeks of speculation.

Owner Ken Cowley confirmed in March he was looking to sell the business and rumours of a Louis Vuitton purchase emerged late last week.

A private equity fund sponsored by the fashion group, L Capital Asia, has now purchased 49.9% of the business in a deal reported to be worth about $100 million. Cowley will still maintain the majority stake.

“In the past 10 years the board and management have worked intelligently and diligently in delivering the resurgence of the RM Williams brand. I am immensely proud of this,” Cowley said in a statement.

“Partnering with L Capital, which is sponsored by one of the globe’s most prestigious and revered brand companies, LVMH, will allow the RM Williams name to reach its full potential. RM was one of my closest friends and I promised him in 2003 before he passed that I would take his legacy to the world”.

Founded in the early 1930s by Reginald Williams, the company became known for its riding boots, which were crafted out of a single piece of leather. In the early 1990s, Cowley and his family took ownership of the company and they will continue to play a key role even after Louis Vuitton‘s acquisition.

Retail expert and Bentleys partner David Gordon told SmartCompany it’s a good time to reinvest in the iconic brand.

“There hasn’t been a lot of investment in the brand lately,” he says. “Store numbers have shrunk and a lot of the sales have been through department stores.”

“I think Louis Vuitton has seen a brand that has been under-invested in, which has a terrific history and a good positioning in the market.”

Gordon also points to the fact the company has some exposure in the British and American markets, with a store in each country.

“The business has clearly been placed in a space where it has the infrastructure and experience to be rolled out as a premium, rugged fashion brand.”

With RM Williams flying under the radar for the last few years, Australians may not be too familiar with some of the company’s history or operations. Here are five interesting things we think you should know:

RM Williams, the man

RM Williams, the founder of the company, was born in 1908 and worked as a camel driver as a young man. He started the business in the 1930s, and became well known throughout regional Australia for his leather-crafting and advocacy. In 2001, he was award the Centenary Medal for his efforts, along with an Order of Australia in 1992.

The business collapsed

While the company is successful now, it hasn’t always been. Back in 1993, the business was placed in receivership, which was the catalyst for handing over part of the ownership to Cowley and family. Cowley became the sole owner in 2003, after Williams’ death.

In 2006, Cowley took the business private.

Australian isn’t the only market

While RM Williams is very much an Australian brand, the company hasn’t just stuck to local shores. The company operates 63 retail stores, with one in Britain and another in the United States. Overall, the business employs 660 workers.

The process remains the same

RM Williams is known primarily for its riding boots, which are renowned for their quality. The key ingredient – a single piece of leather, bound at the back of the boot. In testament to the boots’ ruggedness, the company still makes its boots out of one piece of leather.

Manufacturing will remain in Australia

Despite the sale to an Asia-Pacific private equity group, Cowley maintained yesterday the business would keep its manufacturing in Australia.

Williams said the local manufacturing was “fundamental” to the business.

 

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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