The Origins of Oilskin

There’s nothing worse than getting wet, right? If you think it’s a bit of a niggle now, imagine what it was like for sailors on the high seas or farmers at the far edge of nowhere back in the 1700s.

Back then, sailors, fishermen and anyone else working in foul weather would smear their clothing with oil (or sometimes tar) to help keep them warm and dry. It did a job. But it made clothing heavy, it didn’t last long and it wasn’t breathable.

Then, in 1898, the first modern oilskin garment was made. And what-do-you-know, it was made right here in New Zealand.

A well worn vintage Swanndri oilskin

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Swanndri X Ken Swainson - Swanndri for generations

When Ken Swainson first started farming back in 1964, the Young Farmers Association set him up with an essential piece of farming kit: a Swanndri.

“I was born in ’48. And got it when I was 16. So yeah, it’s getting on a bit.”

Today, almost 60 years on, Ken’s still got that Swanndri – and he still wears it proudly. But it’s more than just a piece of clothing for him now. It’s a symbol of all the things he’s done and seen over the years. And Ken has certainly seen a few things.

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With the best wool in the world – ZQ x Swanndri

We’ve all grown up knowing that wool is a big part of what makes New Zealand tick – it’s in our DNA, part of our past and definitely part of our future. 

It’s not an easy business, growing the world’s best fibre consistently, year after year. To do so requires a huge amount of knowledge about animal nutrition, soil and feed quality, and how to best care for the land that provides for the sheep that call it home.

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