The Creative Force Behind RM Williams On Staying Relevant
Jeremy Hershan on how he’s celebrating the 85-year-old Aussie label’s past – and leading it into the future.
In 1923, 15-year-old Reginald Murray Williams packed a swag and headed for the bush. His family had moved to Adelaide with the hope of getting Williams a proper education, but he was born in rural South Australia, and the outback still held a special place in his heart. A decade later, it would inspire the label that still bears his name.
Launched in 1932, RM Williams began selling leather goods and riding boots. In the eight decades since, the brand’s added local and international retail boutiques and product lines – all while cementing a defining place in Australian culture.
Today, recently-installed head of design, Jeremy Hershan, is looking to take it into the future. “The big attraction for me was to help reshape one of Australia’s most iconic labels,” he says of his decision to join in late 2015. “It was about reinventing the brand history and taking the company forward.”
While Hershan was born in Melbourne, he brings an international appeal to the brand – having worked with Dior Homme’s Kris Van Assche, before heading to Savile Row staple Gieves & Hawkes and Royal outfitters Aquascutum. In many ways then, Hershan’s looking to make Williams’ original journey, only in reverse – taking the brand from its outback roots and into big cities and beyond.
“We have very loyal customers out there in the heartland,” he says. “But we also have a growing following in the other capitals of the world. I’ve looked at creating more of a contemporary collection that draws on the DNA of the brand and the rugged, refined character that has a more modern appeal.”
It means more contemporary, stylish clothing lines, alongside traditional staples. As for proof of Hershan’s commitment to the brand’s heritage, his first stop was its South Australian workshop – where 700 pairs of its ‘Stockman’ boots are produced every day.
“RM Williams has been handmaking boots in Australia for 80-odd years and that’s not going to change,” he says. “These skills have been handed down over decades – we literally have family in the workshop that span generations. We still produce 80 per cent of the product here in Australia and we are always looking to bring more back.”
As for Hershan’s first pair? A hand-me-down from an older brother. “That was in my early twenties, and they’ve remained a staple of my wardrobe ever since.”
For readers looking to follow in the booted footsteps of this successful Melbournian, Hershan says the key is simple: “I’ve worked in Paris, London and Sydney, and I can’t say that it’s always glamorous. But you have to roll your sleeves up, put in the hard yards and surround yourself with people who inspire you. And always stay true to your vision.”
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