Kiwis' long love of the Swannie

17:00, Jun 15 2012
Fieldays at Mystery Creek
STOCKING UP: Alicia Peebles serves Mandy and John Allen from Auckland at the Swanndri stand at Fieldays.

There are a few things that truly set apart Kiwis from the rest of the world. There is the strict adherence to a love of chocolate fish and all things frittered, a national dislike of David Campese, an acceptance that we are never going to be too good at winning a world cup if it's not rugby and the knowledge that if it's cold, you grab a Swannie.

The outdoor clothing brand Swanndri will chalk up its ton next year, and chances are there are a few bush jackets out there clocking up a similar innings.

Over 99 years the brand has become known for its long-wearing nature, its waterproof wool fibres, and for being the choice of fishers and hunters and men and women of the land, generation after generation.

Everyone's got one, or borrows their mate's one, when the mercury dips.

The crowds at this year's Fieldays were a sea of the trademark red and black Swanndri pattern and assorted variations as townies and cockies rugged up against the chill.

Even the Prime Minister popped on a Swannie – the dashing knee-length All Blacks version – to do his annual walk around Mystery Creek.

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But the long-wearing nature of the Kiwi icon has almost been its downfall.

As Swanndri CEO Mark Nevin said, most Kiwis only buy one or two Swanndri jackets in a lifetime, not a good thing for a company's bottom line.

"That's really why we had to introduce a casual line that has two seasons each year," he said.

"Otherwise we wouldn't be selling a lot because our jackets are so well made, so long-lasting, we would never be making a profit."

And while Mr Nevin says he is "loath to use the words Swanndri and fashion in the same sentence" he is excited to see a renaissance of sorts for the label.

"I think it is cool to be a bloke again, so lots of men are rediscovering our brand," he said.

"And then there are the Generation-Y Swannie wearers, who pair a vintage jacket with skinny jeans and sneakers.

"The great thing is you ask anyone who is wearing a Swannie about how or why they got it and they all have a story to tell about it.

"Wool is a major part of our Kiwi heritage and I think that is why Kiwis love their Swannies so much," Mr Nevin said.

The Waikato Times spoke to a few proud Swannie wearers at Fieldays. These are their stories.

Ray Alderson and wife Shirley: The Aldersons bought a Swanndri jacket each about 20 years ago in Otorohanga:

"They were on sale, which knocked the price down for us a bit, I remember that," Mr Alderson said.

"We lived on a rural property then. I wanted mine to go fishing in. I would wear mine quite a bit, I can tell you.

"Have I washed mine? Yep, when it gets fish guts on it you have to.

"But if you ask my lovely wife here she can tell you that it cleans right out."

Mrs Alderson: "I will say they are very good value for money, no shrinking or anything like that."

Willy McGee, Te Puke:

"This one I bought in 1991, but I have worn a Swanndri as long as I can remember. This would be my third or fourth one.

"I am off the farm now but I used to wear mine all the time because I had sheep and cattle and I can tell you they are warm and dry.

"I used to live in the Adelaide hills and took four over with me.

"A mate over there was a mad fisherman and he loved his, wore it all the time, never took it off.

"Even though this one is old it looks as good as new. It still gets a flogging on the barbed wire and I've never had a drama with it.

"I just wish they weren't so dear now."

Rose Catto, nine, and Danielle Martin, seven, both from Te Puna:

Danielle: "We only got ours today and it is the first time we have ever had a Swannie."

Rose: "I really wanted the blue one and Rose the red and we had decided on the colours before we got here."

Danielle: "I wanted to go duck-shooting with my dad and brother and they said I couldn't go because I didn't have a Swannie. So I asked my mum to get me one and she did, so now I can go shooting."

Charlie Symes, 87, retired engineer from Frankton: "I have been wearing Swandri jackets since 1950, and I have owned three or four of them.

"This one I have on today is 30 years old, but it's not my oldest.

"That's at home because it has worn through a bit in the elbows.

"I've never owned a suit jacket, I only have ever worn a Swanndri."

SWANNIE FACTS

The Swanndri was designed by William Broome (1873-1942).

Swanndri was registered as a trademark in 1913 and has become an icon.

Swanndri was named by Broome because the rain would literally run off the back of the garment as it does on a swan.

Broome's design grew out of his frustration with persistently rainy NZ weather.

It was originally short sleeved and worn on top of work clothes for warmth and shower proofing.

Swanndri has been made in China since 2005.

Waikato Times