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Andrew and Nicola Forrest flag RM Williams factory expansion, push for 100pc Australian-made products

The owners of iconic bootmaker RM Williams, Andrew and Nicola Forrest, say they are looking at expanding its factory in Adelaide’s northern suburbs and ensuring all products are Australian made.

Today the couple visited the Salisbury factory for the first time since purchasing the brand in October last year, returning it to Australian ownership.

Bushman Reginald Murray Williams founded RM Williams 88 years ago.

The company was sold offshore to LVMH Group, which owns French luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, in 2013.

LVMH Group was rolled into a private equity firm L Catterton several years later.

After years of trying to market RM Williams to an overseas audience, L Catterton put it up for sale in mid-2019.

Staff raised need to expand factory

Ms Forrest said after speaking to some of the 400 staff at the factory, it was clear space was an issue.

“Every staff member that I spoke to said they need more space,” she said.

“There’s a backlog since Christmas. They’re making 1,200 boots a day here.

Nicola and Andrew Forrest at the RM Williams factory in Salisbury.Nicola and Andrew Forrest at the RM Williams factory in Salisbury.
Nicola and Andrew Forrest bought RM Williams in October last year.(ABC News: Stacey Lee)

“It’s an extraordinary production line and they all say they need more space, so it’s obviously something we’re going to have to look at.”

But she would not elaborate on a timeline or a business plan for a potential expansion.

“They’re the ones that have worked here, they know where the opportunities are and where they’ve been held back in the past, so there’s all sorts of ideas floating and I’m really looking forward to being able to spend more time back here to discuss that and make a strategic plan.”

The new owners have also guaranteed the jobs of the 400 staff members at the Salisbury factory.

“People have been working here for up to 40 years and they are as grateful that we’re involved as we are [and] that they’re still working here, and they can have every confidence in their long-term employment,” Mr Forrest said.

Drive to make all RM Williams products Australian-made

Mr Forrest has plans to ensure all RM Williams products are made in Australia.

At the moment, about 2 per cent of the company’s products are made offshore.

But when asked what the timeframe was, he replied: “Only an idiot would give you a timeframe when you can’t actually control all the moving parts.”

“The timeframe is as soon as possible. We’re yet to determine how big the challenge is, we don’t even have a Tafe which can provide the skills here in South Australia, so we’ve really got to start at ground floor,” he added.

“We’re prepared to start at ground floor and work our way up until Australia’s got the skills back again.”

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