Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Kiwi men surprise high fashion stores

Significant footwear sales were an unexpected bonus for RM Williams, says chief executive Raju Vuppalapati.
Significant footwear sales were an unexpected bonus for RM Williams, says chief executive Raju Vuppalapati.

There is a noticeable change happening across New Zealand with men increasingly swapping their trackpants and singlets for suits, scarves, pocket squares and boots - and the international market is taking notice.

As department store David Jones prepares for its New Zealand debut, Australian company RM Williams has also opened its first stores here.

The company, renowned for its leather accessories and footwear, opened in Wellington last month and opened a flagship store in Auckland's Queen St on Saturday.

Founded in 1932 by Reginald Murray Williams, the company sold 49.9 per cent of its business to a capital equity group backed by fashion giant Louis Vuitton in December 2014. The deal was estimated to be worth A$100 million ($107m). A selection of RM Williams products had previously been sold in New Zealand through department stores, but chief executive Raju Vuppalapati said the time was right to have a retail footprint in New Zealand and offer customers the full RM Williams range.

"We've been in New Zealand for about 30 years now and we've built relationships with a lot of stockists and independents," Vuppalapati said. Vuppalapati said sales and interest in the Wellington store had exceeded expectations, with a number of younger shoppers, and significant sales in footwear a surprise. Demand for premium and luxury products in New Zealand had also been a factor in the company's expansion, he said.

Since its acquisition in 2014, the company had been planning further expansion around the world. It has 50 stores in Australia, two in London and two in New Zealand, and was planning another 15 stores in the coming year.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said the company had been known as an "outback outfitter" but was changing its model.

"They're now into the beautiful jackets, there's a lot of style behind their gear. This is casual Friday on a really good scale. All the learnings that they've got from Louis Vuitton, they've rolled into these stores."

Fashionable men

Name: RM Williams

Known for: Leather accessories and shoes.

Founded: 1932 by Reginald Murray Williams

Number of stores: 54

Stockists: More than 900

- NZ Herald

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