Archive, swimwear design and manufacture, Speedo, Artarmon/Windsor, New South Wales, Australia, c.1954-2001
Speedo is the world's principal competitive swimwear designer and manufacturer. The Museum has an extensive collection of Speedo swimwear and accessories dating from the 1930s to the present including designs produced for the Australian Olympic Games teams from 1964 to 2000 and the Australian Commonwealth Games teams from 1970-1994.
MacRae Knitting Mills, manufacturer of cotton and wool knitwear produced their first swimming costumes in Sydney, Australia in the late 1920s. In 1929 they held a competition to find a name for their swimwear line and so successful was a staff members catchy slogan 'Speedo on in your Speedo', that they changed the company name to Speedo.
From the beginning Speedo focussed their attention on producing competitive swimwear and the Museum's Speedo collection and archive illustrates the evolution of styles and fabrics designed to reduce water resistance and enhance speed. By the 1980s most of the world's top competitive swimmers were competing in Speedo's. In 1990 the Pentland Group in the UK purchased the licence for Speedo International and the manufacturing and distribution of Speedo Australia. A manufacturing and marketing arm was retained in Australia until 2001 when all manufacturing was transferred to Speedo International factories. The Speedo factory in Windsor, Sydney was retained as a marketing and distribution point and refurbished as a major design centre for Speedo leisure wear.
This group of archival material includes scrapbooks containing print media advertising and articles on Speedo swimwear dating from 1954 to the 1990s, providing a valuable record of the changing styles and fabrics used in their swimwear. The advertising campaigns highlight how Speedo used references from their successful competitive swimwear to sell their leisure swimwear ranges. The scrapbooks also contain media reports on Speedo's competitive swimwear designs for the Australian Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games team, highlighting the often controversial nature of the graphics used in the costumes.
In addition the archive includes a collection of international and local, amateur and professional swimming association magazines documenting Speedo's close involvement with sponsoring swimming events at a grass roots level.
The group of transparencies used in advertising images for Speedo's leisure swimwear range provides high quality images of another major aspect of Speedo's production.
Alexander MacRae (1888 - 1938) was born in the Loch Carron/Loch Kishorn region, Ross Shire, Scotland in 1888. He migrated to Australia around 1912. In 1914 MacRae began manufacturing men's and women's woollen and cotton underwear and woollen knitwear in Sydney under the trade name "Fortitude" (a motto taken from the MacRae family crest). The business was originally known as MacRae and Company. It is first listed in Sands and McDougall at 40 Wentworth Ave and then at 283 Clarence St. In 1918 the business became known as MacRae Knitting Company and moved to 33 - 37 Regent St, Redfern. In 1922 it became a limited company and traded as MacRae Knitting Mills Ltd. At around this time it also moved to larger premises at 109 Parramatta Road, Camperdown. In 1926 the company moved again to a three floor factory in Federation Street, Newtown which it occupied until 1956.
In the early 1920s MacRae Knitting Mills came up with a revolutionary breakthrough in swim suit design with the creation of what became known as the "racer-back" style. The racer-back was figure-hugging and featured a high, narrow back panel which permitted freedom of the shoulder and back muscles and largely eliminated fabric drag. The company ran a staff competition in 1928 to name the costume and one of its employees, a former sea-captain, Captain Jim Parsons, won the five pounds prize with the winning slogan, "Speed on in your Speedo". For competitive swimming, a lightweight and strong silk swim suit was used, but because of the cost of silk, a cotton fabric was used for training sessions. Soon after its introduction the Swedish swimmer, Arne Borg, set a world swimming record wearing a Speedo swim suit. The famous Australian swimmer, Andrew (Boy) Charlton, also wore a Speedo swim suit. From that point onwards the company formed close relationships with both still water and salt water sports associations.
In 1937 MacRae Knitting Mills became a proprietary company. In the same year it was granted a licence from Coopers Inc. of Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA to produce and market "Jockey" underwear for men and boys. Jockey was the largest selling brand of underwear in the world. As a result of this business arrangement, MacRae Knitting Mills ceased production of its "Fortitude" brand of underwear.
Following the death of Alexander MacRae in 1938, his two eldest sons, Alasdair and Bill, became Joint Managing Directors.
From 1939 until 1945 the company turned almost all of its resources over to Australia's war effort, with 90% of production being for war purposes and the remaining 10% for essential civilian production. In 1942, because of the success of the Speedo brand, the company changed its name to Speedo Knitting Mills Pty Ltd.
After World War II the demand for Speedo swim suits including the two-piece and bikini styles necessitated the establishment of another factory at Windsor in 1947.
In 1948 Speedo became the official supplier of Australia's Olympic swimsuits for the first time. Other national swimming teams also wore Speedos at the Olympic Games: for example at the Munich Olympics in 1972, 52 out of 54 countries wore Speedo swimsuits.
In 1952 Speedo Knitting Mills (Holdings) Ltd was incorporated and became a public company listed on the Sydney and Melbourne stock exchanges. Its name was changed to Speedo Holdings Ltd in 1959.
An additional factory was established at Newcastle in 1952, controlled by a separate subsidiary company, Speedo Knitting Mills (Newcastle) Pty Ltd. In 1956 Speedo built a new administrative centre and factory at 239 Pacific Highway, Artarmon and the Newtown site was closed down. The "House of Speedo" at Artarmon was officially opened by the Governor of NSW, Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, on 21 February 1957. By this time Speedo was employing 700 people.
In the early 1950s the first skirtless version of the men's competitive swim suit was introduced and this led to the racing style brief. Australian swimmers performed brilliantly at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics wearing Speedo swim suits winning eight gold medals and this attracted world-wide attention. In 1957 Speedo developed a new competitive swim suit using nylon which had strength, elasticity, and repelled water which meant that it had fast drying properties.
In 1959 Speedo began exporting its products to the US and this development was accelerated after the Australian Government introduced its export initiative scheme. The previous year Speedo had entered into a licence arrangement scheme for skiwear with White Stag, part of the Warnaco Inc. group of companies from Portland, Oregon. After undertaking careful research of the US market, Speedo decided to enter into an agreement with Hirsch-Weiss, a division of Warnaco, for that company to be its American distributor, and at the same time Speedo established its own advertising and sales promotion organisation at Palo Alto in California. In 1968 Warnaco acquired 500,000 Speedo shares and became the largest shareholder in the company.
For the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Speedo designed a costume for the Australian team that featured a green and gold stripe. From 1965 prints were added to Speedo's product range and from then on swim wear became a fashion item, with prints and colours changing each season.
In 1968 new warehouse premises were completed and occupied in Artarmon; in 1970 the Windsor factory was enlarged; and in 1971 another factory was opened at Taree on the NSW mid-north coast. Artarmon was the main administrative centre and undertook fashion merchandise cutting and all knitting; Windsor was responsible for machining of all fashion wear; and Taree undertook the cutting and machining of underwear. In 1971 the group of companies trading as Country Club Holdings Ltd, shirt manufacturers, were acquired by Speedo which meant that Speedo now also produced a full range of men's business and sports shirts.
The company's overall operations were also restructured at this time. Australia was to focus on the Speedo, Country Club and Jockey brands; Speedo swimwear, previously exported to the US, was to be manufactured by Blue Grass Industries Inc. of Kentucky, with Hirsch-Weiss remaining as distributors; and the company purchased 30% of Robert Shaw and Co. Ltd of Nottingham (to 51% in 1972 and the balance of the ordinary capital of the company was acquired in 1974) and through Speedo (Europe) Ltd Robert Shaw became responsible for the manufacture and distribution of Speedo products in Western Europe. These developments, the company's export trade, and its numerous international licensing agreements - New Zealand was the first in 1963 - led to the formation of an International Division to coordinate activities. Speedo was such a successful exporter that it won export awards from the Department of Trade and Industry in 1964 and 1969. In 1974 Speedo Canada Inc. was established to undertake the administration, manufacture and promotion of Speedo products in Canada.
For the competitive swimming events at the 1972 Munich Olympics Speedo introduced a new elastomeric fibre known as lycra. Twenty one out of the 22 world swimming records broken at the Munich Olympics were achieved by swimmers wearing Speedos. However for all purpose swimwear, Nylon remained the most popular fabric.
In 1980 Speedo acquired the Gloria group of companies and also 44.9% of the equity in Formfit of Australia Ltd, the remaining balance of shares being acquired the following year. In this year it also acquired 50% stakes in Kentucky Textiles in the US and Carlton Place Textiles Ltd of Canada.
The period 1983 - 86 saw the consolidation of all the company activities both in Australian and overseas. In 1983 Hirsch-Weiss, became the full licensee for the manufacture, sale and distribution of Speedo products in the US; Botnick, a division of Warnaco, Canada assumed the same rights for Canada.
In 1986 AFP Corporation took over Speedo Australia and Speedo International and merged them into the Linter Group of Companies. The company's International Division was separated from the Australian manufacturing company for taxation purposes. The company's 50% stake in Kentucky Textiles was bought by the other 50% partner, Wayne Shumate, with Warnaco, owner of Hirsch-Weiss, being granted a perpetual licence. Speedo (Europe) Ltd of Nottingham was sold to Crowther Ltd and a perpetual licence was also granted.
In 1988 Abraham Goldberg, through Parkinson Holdings, acquired all of the Linter Group from AFP and merged it with his own textile group, Entrad, and privatised the whole of the textile and apparel companies under the umbrella group, Linter Textile Corporation.
In 1990 the British-based Pentland Group of Companies purchased Speedo after the Linter group went into receivership and the company became known as Speedo International Ltd and operated from headquarters in Nottingham. Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century SPEEDO launched a number of innovative fabrics: S2000 was the world's first, fast swimwear fabric; Endurance swimwear used a fabric that did not degrade in water; Aquablade was developed for racing swimsuits; and the FASTSKIN swimsuit was based on a sharkskin design. A manufacturing and marketing arm was retained in Australia until 2001 when all manufacturing was transferred to Speedo International factories. The Speedo factory in Windsor was retained as a marketing and distribution point and refurbished as a major design centre for Speedo leisure wear.