Like all great men, R.M. Williams was many things: a humble bushman, accomplished equestrian, seasoned raconteur and father to 10 children. But above all, R.M., as he was known to Australians, was a national hero, namesake to the company he founded in the ’30s, famous for its iconic one-piece leather chelsea boot. When he died in 2003, at the age of 95, thousands gathered at his state funeral, organized by the Australian government. The acting Prime Minister at the time, John Anderson, said this: “He epitomized our national character, even though many Australians who walk in his boots have never ridden a stock horse or watched the sun come up over the Gammon Ranges.”
The brand originated in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. In 1932, R.M., feeling the effects of the Great Depression, built a small factory behind his father’s house and began fashioning one-piece leather boots for ranchers and cattlemen in the Australian outback. “They were unique,” says Matt Francis, who, more than 80 years later, steers merchandizing and design for R.M. Williams. Most chelsea boots, by comparison, are cut from two pieces of leather, which are then stitched beneath the elastic band. “With a one-piece, there’s no seaming that can get damaged in the bush. If you look at Western cowboy boots, all the seams are a little higher, it’s away from the stirrup.” In other words, there’s less that can go wrong.
“With a one-piece, there’s no seaming that can get damaged in the bush. If you look at Western cowboy boots, all the seams are a little higher, it’s away from the stirrup.”
Though production has since moved to a bigger factory in Adelaide, the iconic boots are still made the same way: individual pieces of leather shaped by hand around a last. “You have these big, strong Australian guys in the factory pulling the leather and stitching it around the back,” says Francis. “Each pair is uniquely put down the line. We don’t make batches of different sizes.” For a large factory that employees more than 200 employees — many that have worked there their entire lives — just 700 pairs are manufactured every week.