FASHION // WHEN you think of fashion, images of hyper-modern runways and out-there designs likely come to mind. But despite that cutting edge perception, the industry’s high end still relies on good, old fashioned craftsmanship.
Ian Wenzel, owner operator of Warragul’s Port Phillip Manufacturing Co Pty Ltd, has an eye for quality. With a lifetime in the industry and over 30 years as Gippsland’s leading stockist of R.M. Williams clothing, he has seen many styles come and go. But when it comes to the classic R.M. boot, for example, little has changed in the pursuit of quality.
“Quality footwear fabrication in the modern era is still very much a craft and skill-based industry, and one requiring highly skilled labour,” Ian said.
“The reason this industry requires such intense specialisation is its basic commodity: leather. Because no two animals are the same, and therefore no two animal skins are the same, each hide has to be individually processed, skinned, tanned, cut, stitched, finished, and packaged.
“As a result, all industries based around this unique individual product, whether they be footwear, leather goods or apparel, are restrained by the inability to automate and produce in multiples. Some attempts have been made, such as computerised stitching, injection moulding to reduce labour costs, and so on, but those processes lose the quality leather is known for.
“The recent acquisition of the iconic Australian footwear and apparel brand R.M. Williams by the world’s leading fashion brand Louis Vuitton is quite a fascinating endeavour and well worth watching.
“Here we have perhaps the world’s leading high-end fashion multinational brand taking over, and attempting to take to the world an Australian-owned, medium-size manufacturing and retail company with a turnover of $100 million.
“Underpinning this, the manufacturing process used in making R.M. Williams Boots and Shoes are two footwear construction methods with some minor modifications which have been around for more than 100 years.”
One thing which has changed dramatically in even just the last decade, however, is how people buy their boots. Port Phillip has been on the cutting edge of online sales and marketing since the option became available. Much of the business’ trade is done via the internet, and Port Phillip’s online store, portphillipshop.com.au, has significant traffic from Australia and across the world.
While the quality of R.M. Williams’ product has not changed, it’s this global market which has recently seen some modernisation of product lines. In addition to the new Adelaide boot (pictured above), more modern and metropolitan clothing styles have launched since the Vuitton take-over. The result is a label still firmly rooted in its rural Australia history, but which now appeals to main street shoppers around the world. If it has been a while since you last checked out R.M. Williams, now is the time to look again.
There is more to Port Phillip than R.M., though. In addition to a wide range of Akubra hats, Merino Gold jumpers, Wild Goose jackets, and other premium Australian products, Ian has recently started stocking classic Driza-Bone oilskins and jackets from legendary New Zealand company Swandri.
Swandri’s Findlay jacket is a great example of modern country fashion. Using the best weatherproof clothing manufacturing techniques, the Kiwi company has created a jacket which is as practical on the farm as it is stylish and comfortable in Melbourne.
You can browse Port Phillip’s range on the web at portphillipshop.com.au. While you can purchase all items online, you can also choose to drop into Ian’s store at 1a Barkly Street, Warragul, for fitting advice and to see the range of quality clothing in person.
The fashion industry may be fast-paced, but Port Phillip’s good old fashioned service makes it easier to navigate.
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