As Driza-Bone – the label synonymous with the hard-wearing riding coats – approaches its 120th birthday, its current owner, the Propel Group, has announced plans to sell.
The group merged the brand with another Australian outback clothing company, Richard Sellars-Jones’s RB Sellars (famous for its work shirts), last year, and now wants to expand into the US market, and to do that it needs money.
“The American market has huge potential for us,” Propel Group chief executive Keith Evans tells Broadsheet. “The overseas market likes Australian brands as there’s a high belief in their quality and [the] integrity of product. Driza-Bone is another one of those iconic Australian brands like R. M. Williams or Seafolly, which are particularly strong overseas. We see the opportunity for Driza-Bone to follow in that order, to take advantage of the Northern Hemisphere winters.”
Driza-Bone – originating from the phrase “dry as a bone” – has a history stretching back to the 1890s, when British sailor Emilius Le Roy, who was headed for New Zealand, thought to use recycled ship sails to make a full-length waterproof coat, proofed with linseed oil. His original idea was later reworked by T. E. Pearson (the son of E. J. Pearson, who founded New Zealand’s Pearson Soap), who brought Leroy Coats to Sydney and experimented with the proofing process in his Manly backyard shed. He ensured the material wasn’t flammable and could withstand the harsh Australian sun.
Over the years its been owned by a British motorcycle company, Bellstaff, and the Melbourne-based Lempriere family (who has strong ties to the wool industry), among others. The Propel Group is currently based in Melbourne’s Abbotsford and the core range of oilskin products are now made in a Brisbane factory.
Evans says the group plans to take advantage of America’s fascination with the Australian outback, but to do so it may have to sell a majority share of the company to an overseas investor. “Driza-Bone has a proven heritage ... This really does what it’s supposed to do – waterproof and all. We feel that the American want-to-be country customers, [who don’t necessarily live that country lifestyle all the time], want to wear our quality outdoor products.”
While Evans says the label would ideally stay in Australian hands, he can’t promise anything. “I don’t know who will be interested. It could very easily be an Australian business. But it’s looking very attractive to an overseas purchaser. I’m very, vey excited about working with the new owners; there is huge potential for growth there.” And the brand is in good nick – total sales rose by 39 per cent between 2017 and 2018.
It follows the similar sale of heritage Australian boot specialist R. M. Williams to luxury Paris-based conglomerate LVMH, which acquired a 49.9 per cent stake in the business (valued at $50 million) in 2013.