By ROGER DESAILLY
WITH a classical timeless look, high quality design, fabric and make, and a practical and hardworking heritage going back over 100 years, Queensland manufactured oilskin coat and riding wear clothing company Claybourn was established in Brisbane in 1910 by pioneering clothing entrepreneur Manning John Claybourn for one very simple reason – to keep Aussies warm and dry.
Over the 113 years since, Claybourn with its distinctive horse and rider logo has become a well-known and beloved brand of choice both in Australia and abroad, for those who recognise a great quality garment made by using only the highest quality Australian or UK oilskin and dryskin fabrics when they see it.
This also includes one very high-profile member of the British royal family. A photo of the then young Prince Charles, and now the recently crowned King Charles III wearing a Claybourn oilskin coat was taken during his year spent studying at Geelong Grammar in Australia in 1966, and it’s very possible he is
wearing it still on the occasional cold and wet English winters day.
In 1990, after enduring several years of constant wet weather 50-year-old local Brisbane fashion entrepreneur Tom Hanna and his wife Christine founded The Australian Coat Company.
He was working for another well-known Australian coat brand in Brisbane at the time, however the factory was sold to a British motorcycle company in 1989 – a similar fate to many of the other clothing brands in Australia around that time.
Saddened by the foreign ownership change, Tom was determined to start a new brand that produced 100% Australian owned and Australian-made garments, and so the Australian Coat Company was founded.
Making children’s raincoats and customised waterproof riding jackets for a niche tourist and equestrian market and manufacturing special garments for industrial, commercial and promotional uses soon underpinned the growth of a successful and growing business.
The securing of a state wide department store supply contract, the development of a strong international export business and a constant focus on innovation and new product development also paid off, with the Australian Coat Company named the best Queensland small business with fewer than 10 employees at the 1996 Small Business Awards.
In 2004 Tom Hanna sold his Australian Coat Company to Gilbert and Beverley Trombetta.
A year later the new owners of the Australian Coat Company then also purchased the Claybourn clothing business after many generations of Claybourn family ownership, with the acquisition also including the Aussie Quality Canvas Goods Company that had been purchased by Claybourn in 2001 as part of an expansion strategy.
In 2021 Brisbane based entrepreneur, businessman, property developer and start up innovator and investor Peter Huang of JHC Holdings, a top 400 private company in Queensland with an asset portfolio that includes a resort, golf courses, property development projects and multiple other businesses, bought the combined Australian Coat Company and Claybourn Clothing Company.
Together with the Aussie Quality Canvas Goods Company and the Aussie Mills Embroidery business he purchased at the same time, Peter then merged all these related high-quality fashion and garment production businesses into one new united brand, Claybourn.
Within a few months of these acquisitions and business merger, Peter more than doubled the brand’s Australian production workforce and design teams, significantly expanded the factory and warehouse space and opened a new factory and premium warehouse outlet.
He also then opened two new retail shops in the Brisbane CBD Myers Centre and on Cavill Avenue on the Gold Coast and launched an international online e-commerce platform.
Speaking to Peter last week at the 2023 Magic Millions Polo and Showjumping event on the Gold Coast, he outlined his global vision to turn Claybourn into a truly international premium quality but accessible fashion and luxury apparel brand, with both a global online e-commerce presence and a network of flagship company-owned and franchised stores worldwide.
He plans to achieve this by leveraging off his own and the company’s extensive international business connections and expert local manufacturing skills and knowledge, and building on the Claybourn brand’s strong pioneering and entrepreneurial heritage and history.
He also is committed to the use of only the highest quality Australian and UK oilskin fabrics and building on the historical reputation of the Claybourn brand as ethical, sustainable, proudly Australian made and based in Brisbane – now the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games host city.
“For the first time in its history, Claybourn manufacturing is now in the final stage of being certified by ECA-Ethical Clothing Australia,” Peter said.
“While our heritage product lines will continue to evolve and always be made in Australia, Claybourn’s large in-house designers and manufacturing team will also work closely with carefully selected manufacturing partners globally in the development of other products for modern retail, corporate and wholesale markets.
“As part of JHC Holdings, Claybourn’s mission is to be ‘the best of the best’ in terms of design, manufacturing and service for our domestic and worldwide clients as we strive to make luxury fashion and apparel accessible to a wider customer base.
“Each product is fully tested by our approved international testing company to meet GB18401 standards and every detail from buttons to zippers have been designed with the highest quality in mind, which differentiates our products from the mass-produced fast fashion products that contribute to landfills.
“Our goal is to establish ourselves as an ethical and sustainable brand with timeless styles that are made to last.
“We also plan to expand our current lines to deliver a full range of head to toe active, leisure and formal wear fashion and apparel, catering to women, men and children and even pet and other accessories for the retail market.
“We will however also continue to manufacture in Australia our traditional oilskin and dryskin coats, jackets and vests.
“In addition we also plan to strengthen our focus on and marketing to the active rural and country lifestyle customer and the recreational, show and stockhorse riding demographic that is at the heart of our heritage, including bringing back the production of the much loved traditional moleskin jeans in the near future.”
The history of the iconic horse and rider logo traces back to the founding of the original Claybourn company in 1910, when riding a horse both as a means of transportation and for work was a common part of daily life for Manning John Claybourn and many others living in turn of the century Queensland cities,
country towns and on outback stations.
The various manufacturing and fashion businesses that have evolved over time to now form the new Claybourn Clothing Company have certainly withstood the test of time, including the social and economic impacts of World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and more recently the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020.
Today the logo has become a very recognisable symbol of the rugged, adaptable, dependable, hardworking, independent and adventurous characteristics of the Claybourn garments as envisaged by its original founder, a trusted companion that you can wear with confidence as you go through life’s journey and experience its many adventures.
And so, if owner Peter Huang gets his way the Claybourn brand, born in Brisbane over 100 years ago and worn proudly by many since will also become the brand of choice for many more generations to come.
It’s possible that when King Charles III comes back for a visit down under in a few years he might even bring his own trusty Claybourn oilskin back with him, still as good as ever.
It’s also possible that if Peter and his team can deliver on their global expansion plans over the next decade, when the world comes to Brisbane in 2032 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games they might just see thousands of games volunteers and staff proudly wearing an authentic Aussie outfit made by Claybourn, keeping them all warm and dry just as Manning John Claybourn would have wanted.