Global entrant to widen workwear market

Birkill will stay on with the company as CEO for Australia and New Zealand

Though not maybe as fashionable as the latest smock from a catwalk, the $1.4 billion ANZ workwear market is set for a wider range of goods after the entrance of a global safety clothing leader.

Prime Mover Workwear – founded by Australian entrepreneur, Brett Birkill and his wife Wandy as a small business above a fruit shop in Melbourne before becoming the largest privately owned workwear company in Australia – has been acquired by Irish workwear company, Portwest Limited, in a deal worth over $10 million.

Portwest is also a family owned business and a global leader in safety clothing, established in 1904 and employs over 2000 staff. It distributes to over 100 countries worldwide and reports a European turnover of more than $200 million annually.

The acquisition of Prime Mover Workwear sees a significant geographical expansion and also marks the start of the biggest privately owned workwear brand in South East Asia.

“We’ve been wanting to expand into Australasia for some time and have spent a lot of time looking for the best company in the region,” said Harry Hughes, CEO, Portwest Group. “We’re confident we’ve found it and can’t wait to see what the future holds for us in the territory”.

Birkill – who will stay on with the company as CEO for Australia and New Zealand – told Inside Retail that the workwear space is one that crosses over multiple industries.

“It’s one of those industries where because it’s not high fashion it often doesn’t get a lot of press,” he said. “But it touches pretty much every business around the country whether it’s just a few hi-vis vests on the door or a full warehouse through to the general sector.

“The retail side, which services the end consumer business, is booming and has shifted a little bit in recent times by moving heavily into the construction side after housing booms, especially in Melbourne and Sydney.

“A few years prior to that the mining market was pushing it all along but there’s retailers right throughout the country that service these businesses with workwear”.

Birkill said the new deal will mean a much larger range and product range are on offer, with Portwest introducing a host of items.

“We started with the core, the workwear range drill pants, shirts and hi-vis jackets 13 years ago with 12 styles that we’ve grown to 250 styles and options,” he said.

“Portwest then bring the next dimension of offering and range that covers a huge amount of diversity as far as the consumer and offer range flows.”

Gloves, glasses, headwear and eyewear as well as more role specific items such as whites only for painters or heavy jackets for freezer workers, are the types of subsidiary products that Portwest will open the business up to.

“Australian workwear is world renowned, mainly off the back of the Aussie worker image that’s passed across,” said Birkill.

“Portwest is primed now to really come in and shakeup a lot of the industry, there’s a lot more of the industry to take with these products”.

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