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R.M. Williams: The evolution of a heritage Australian brand

R.M. Williams: The evolution of a heritage Australian brand

We speak to the women forging the company’s sustainable path; on expanding ambitious sustainability goals, the deepening relationship with Good Earth Cotton, and on what the journey has taught them.

When it comes to sustainable practices, R.M. Williams could have rested on their laurels. The heritage brand has been synonymous with quality, handcrafted Australian manufacturing since its inception, but as Angela Winkle, Chief Sustainability and Strategy Officer shares, relying on existing sustainable practices has never been a consideration for the brand.

“The most beneficial thing we can do is create products that last, that can be worn year after year; avoid that overconsumption in the apparel and footwear industry,” she shares. “We’re very proud of that legacy, and (craftsmanship) is a true sustainability, but we also need to take responsibility for the impact of the products we make and sell.”

The ambitious and measurable sustainability goals R.M. Williams has committed to address every step of the supply chain. Among them is accredited carbon neutral Australian manufacturing, including sourcing 100% renewable electricity for owned and operated facilities by 2025; and to reach gender parity, within all levels of the company, by 2025. Since 2020, the company has also released annual modern slavery statements, outlining their commitment to reducing the risks of modern slavery in its business operations and supply chains. “We sort of view it as we’re starting in a good place, but we can do more and do better,” Winkle concludes.

Another core focus area for the Australian company is to use preferred fibres in the creation of their apparel by 2025. In pursuit of this goal, R.M. Williams collaborated with Good Earth Cotton last year on a small collection of limited edition tees to commemorate the brand’s 90th anniversary. “The business really wanted to produce a unique couple of styles, using the most planet-friendly cotton,” R.M. Williams’ Sustainability and CSR Manager, Carli Davis, explains. As the story goes, the partnership was all but assured upon a visit to Sundown Pastoral Company’s 10,600ha Keytah aggregation, where Good Earth Cotton fibres are grown.

“To find a carbon-positive option that was growing locally in Moree was a really great moment in the search (for planet-friendly cotton),” she says. Davis recalls being invited to the farm for lunch, and seeing for herself how everything operated, despite the fashion industry often being “very closed doors.” “The Stathams are doing great things for the environment, and also great things for the community.”

When reflecting on the undeniably successful, yet always evolving sustainability journey that the company is on, Winkle says there are two pieces to the lessons amassed. “Sustainability challenges the whole system. For apparel, footwear…we’re making the most progress when we engage with our full value chain,” she explains. It’s not just about Australian made; it’s also about sustainably Australian grown. “So that’s going right back to the growers, like Good Earth Cotton; also going to farming collectives around leather. Working with the whole supply chain on how we transition to more sustainable materials.”

The second? After the sourcing and manufacturing process, there must be holistic measurement and management. “Taking into account production processing, use, end of life of the product,” Winkle elaborates. Notably, on the day that this interview takes place, R.M Williams is announced as a foundational member of Seamless, the newly-launched National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme (NCPSS), the activities of which are projected to divert 60 per cent of end-of-life clothing from landfill by 2027. Each organisation — including THE ICONIC and David Jones, among others — has committed $100,000 to fund a 12-month transition phase.

It is clear that the pursuit of minimising our negative impact on the environment is not a case of ‘set and leave’. Companies, individuals; we’ll often have to iterate along the way. “And so we’re really investing in traceability in measurement; and finding that what you thought might be the most sustainable option is not necessarily so, and trying to make fact-based decisions to reduce our impact.”