Inside 92-year-old bootmaker R.M. Williams’ fresh start


R.M. Williams, owned by Tattarang, has expanded its Adelaide workshop with a new manufacturing line specifically for women’s boots. Anastasia Santoreneos speaks with the company’s first female future master craftsperson, Chloe Fabian, about what makes a good pair of boots.
R.M. Williams future first female craftsman, Chloe Fabian. Image source: Supplied

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Ninety-two-year-old bootmaker R.M. Williams is entering a new era that’s decidedly feminine. The company, owned by Nicole and Andrew Forrest’s investment vehicle, Tattarang, has expanded its South Australian workshop to include a women’s manufacturing line. 

The new line is part of a 13,500-square-metre workshop expansion in Adelaide’s northern suburb of Salisbury, which follows an $8 million investment in new equipment. 

“As R.M. realised almost a century ago, women across Australia had an equal need for elegant yet resilient boots and workwear that could withstand the rigours of living and working on the land,” Nicola Forrest said at the line’s launch. 

“Today, we are investing in the next chapter of this history together with talented women in leadership positions working on every step of the boot-making process, proudly making products for women by women.” 

R.M. Williams chief operating officer, Tara Moses. Image source: Supplied

It comes as the global women’s footwear market continues to grow – Statista research shows it was worth about US$152 billion in 2018 and is forecast to reach US$220 billion by 2027. In Australia, R.M. Williams chief Paul Grossmann says the women’s footwear market is larger than men’s, growing faster. For R.M. Williams, it’s 15% of the company’s total market. 

When Tara Moses joined the company about a year ago as its chief operating officer, R.M. Williams was facing some capacity restraints within the workshop. With two footwear manufacturing lines, the leathermaker was experiencing bottlenecks. She says the investment shows commitment to Australian manufacturing. 

“Having this additional manufacturing capability just allows us to open up more potential and bring more boots to market for our customers,” she says. 

“Women’s boots aren’t new to the company by any stretch, but they were competing with the men’s line regarding production capacity. Women’s boots have a different finesse to them – they take a bit of extra care and attention. And so we made the strategic decision to invest more in women’s boots. We saw it as an opportunity for us.” 

Chloe Fabian, who’s been with the company for almost six years, is set to become R.M. Williams’ first female master craftsperson after she completes her leather apprenticeship in 2026.

“It was just something I’ve always wanted to do,” 23-year-old Fabian says. “I’ve grown up with R.M.s – my father has been here longer than I’ve been alive.” 

The four-year apprenticeship sees Fabian learn the ins and outs of leather craftsmanship at TAFE. In her second year, she’s currently learning about leather grading, which heavily influences the clicking department. (Clicking is where craftspeople cut the uppers for boots from a skin of leather). 

“It’s incredible to have a women’s line,” she says. “It encourages more women to feel more confident about stepping up into a role like this.” 

And to this budding master, what makes a good pair of boots? 

“We go through about 80 processes here. We are specific about what we can and can’t use or do. The leather we get goes through so many quality checks – it’s just a process. Care and process.” 

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