The history of Swanndri

Most people spend the two days before Christmas worrying about last-minute presents, but not William Broome. On December 23rd, 1913, he trademarked what’s become New Zealand’s most iconic outerwear brand.

Designed to keep you dry like a swan’s plumage, Broome devised the name Swanndri. Perhaps it was a particularly rainy summer at his home in Taranaki, or perhaps Broome just had the foresight to know that Kiwi weather can turn in an instant. Either way, from day one, Swanndri was designed to keep rural New Zealanders comfortable no matter what the weather threw at them: from bitterly cold and wet winter mornings to hot, harsh summer afternoons.

People often ask us why the company wasn’t named after the more famous bird known for keeping water off its back. Easy decision: “Swanndri” sounds better than “Duckdri”.

Broome’s first offering to the men and women of New Zealand was the original short sleeved woollen bush shirt, sold as one size fits all. This wasn’t because everyone was the same size back then, but rather because the process Broome used to weatherproof the fabric shrunk it unevenly, so it was a bit of a lottery as to what size the product would end up at. Best to keep it one size(ish) then, he reasoned.

As secret as a certain chicken recipe from Kentucky, the liquid formula Broome would treat early Swannis with has been the source of much speculation. The best guess is that Broome, a tailor by trade, brought it with him when he migrated from the UK to New Zealand at 21 years of age. Whatever was in that magic potion, the waterproofness of Swanndri garments provided the backbone from which the brand was built on.

In 1927, a tailor named John McKendrick added a hood, a laced front, and long sleeves to the original bush shirt design and introduced the classic olive green we still use today. His business began producing the bush shirt under licence to the Broome family before eventually buying the rights to the trademark in 1964.

In 2005 Swanndri began to move manufacturing of most items off shore, as the resources available in New Zealand no longer met the needs of the growing business. We still grow the wool for our outerwear in NZ and also make our socks and leather belts here.  

In 2018 we re introduced a small range of bush shirts that were made in New Zealand and we are currently working on our next Made in NZ collection.

Today, after more than 100 years of refining Broome’s pioneering innovation, the bush shirt remains one of our most popular products, and you’ll be pleased to know it now comes in all sizes. Our range has expanded massively since the early days of Swanndri and the Bush Shirt is now joined by a product range of more than a few hundred garments across the seasons. One thing hasn’t changed though: wool remains the core fibre of everything we produce at Swanndri. Yes, the mighty sheep — the animal synonymous with New Zealand — provides the miracle fibre we rely on to keep you warm and dry.

We’ve always kept our customers comfortable on the farms, in the mountains, and in forests of New Zealand and around the world, but today we also keep them comfortable and looking sharp in the cities. Swanndri’s signature style extends beyond the rural environment and our range is a real crowd pleaser with city folk, too.

We source the highest quality wool we can get our hands on from farms throughout New Zealand. We hate to be the ones to say “told you so” but some people in the industry are only just catching on that wool ticks all the boxes of sustainability, durability, and comfort. We’ve known that for more than 100 years.

For us, creating Swanndri garments and adding to the rich history of the brand is a responsibility we take very seriously. Next time you pop on your favourite Swanni, keep in mind all the stories,  people, and sheep who’ve gone into perfecting your comfort and style.