Long march for successful boot makers

After nearly a century of boot making, EMDG recipient Redback Boots has a rich history of success in finding product needs in the marketplace and delivering quality solutions to meet those needs.

Started by three Greek immigrant brothers in 1927, the business that became Redback Boots remains a family-owned private company that spans five generations.

Strategy Manager James Carlile said family was one of the core values of the business.

“Redback supports about 100 families through employment in our factory and sewing room in Sydney, and that’s very important for a family company,” he said.

“When many footwear companies were moving offshore, Redback made the deliberate choice to keep its manufacturing in Australia, and is now one of the few major footwear companies that produces 100 per cent of its products onshore.”

A commitment to sourcing high-quality materials and components for the production of simple, robust designs that last a long time have given the company a competitive edge in a narrow market, and helped Redback to recontract with the Australian Defence Force in 2014. 

Redback has been providing boots to Australia’s military since the 90s but winning the new contract against the quality of global tenders was a pretty good feeling, Carlile said.

“The first contract came at a time when they were far more prescriptive in their design, but our relationship with defence has evolved over the years to be more of a partnership,” he said.

“The new contract recognises the need for more specialisation in equipment, so we got to flex our muscles as bootmakers and really show what we could do in designing from scratch for a range of specific needs – the feedback has been really positive, so we’re very excited about that.”

That same expertise and technology supports specialist boots for other Australian industry sectors, such as fire brigades, police, emergency services and steel manufacturers.

Redback bites into overseas market

The company operates on a very lean model, with a handful of admin staff running the nearly $40 million business, and the remaining staff on the factory floor, applying their expertise to manufacturing the actual boots.

Redback realised last year that it had grown as much as it could under the existing model and needed to make some more radical changes to stay competitive as a modern, robust business, Carlile said.

“For 16 years the company has run at capacity and sold every boot we were able to produce, so we decided to maintain that cutting-edge manufacturing ability, moving to a new location in Alexandria that increased floor space by more than 30 per cent, and to focus on updating the rest of the business,” he said.

“We moved some resources around and started seriously looking at analysis of our data about sales, who and where our customers are, and how to really bring the company into the 21st century in terms of marketing.”

While the majority of business is still domestic, Redback exports boots all over the world, from major markets like the USA and Europe to smaller destinations like Mozambique, Dubai and Bhutan. 

“About 50 per cent of our revenue comes from overseas sales and we think that’s about the right proportion for now,” Carlile said.

“So, while we want to get smarter about the way we do things in terms of applying analysis to our operations, any increase in capacity in the immediate future we expect to maintain that same international-domestic profile.”

Footwear support

Redback has been exporting boots since the early 90s and has a solid footing overseas but is moving to take a more considered hand on the reins globally as part of the current refocusing on data-driven market analysis.

The company heard about the funding available through EMDG for companies expanding their presence in overseas markets and felt that it perfectly complemented its current plans, Carlile said.

“The assistance provided by the grant was extremely helpful in giving us a level of confidence and reassurance in looking at the export facet of what we do,” he said.

“In future years we plan to maximise the advantage to our brand by broadening our number of claim categories and taking an even more multi-pronged approach to our global market.”

The future that Redback is moving towards is a more tech-savvy company that is able to help retailers sell more boots domestically and push the presence of the brand internationally.

But it’s the connection to the past and that near-century of history the company has with manufacturing world-beating quality boots right here in Australia that is what makes Redback so remarkable, Carlile said.

“Being able to walk from my office to the factory floor and see the skills of the people who work there, all combining their efforts to produce a top-quality Australian-made product – well, I find that immensely satisfying,” he said.

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Redback Boots are manufactured in Australia and provide specialist footwear for a number of Australian industry sectors.

Image supplied by Redback Boots.