William Henry Broome was born at Leek, Staffordshire, England, on 30 September 1873, the fifth child of Joseph Broome, a shoe manufacturer, and his wife, Elizabeth James. His father died when he was a few months old. At 21 he emigrated to New Zealand and settled in New Plymouth, where he started business as a clothier, mercer and tailor. On 12 June 1902, in New Plymouth, he married Maud Margaret Freeth; they were to have four children. Maud died in November 1909, leaving three children aged five years and under, the youngest only three weeks old. On 23 December 1915, in New Plymouth, Broome married Ivy Ruth Hooker, a tailoress; the couple would have three children.
A dapper man, who favoured three-piece suits and smart hats, Broome was a walking advertisement for his clothing business. His interest extended beyond high fashion, however, and he soon realised there was money to be made from manufacturing clothing for farmers and others who worked on the land. To cater for this market he designed a shower-proof work shirt, with short sleeves and a laced front. In 1913 he registered a trademark for ready-made clothing, which featured a distinctive swan logo above the word ‘Swanndri’. Although other garments were to be made under the label, the waterproof shirt became known as the Swanndri.
The shirt’s waterproof properties were achieved by dipping it in a solution made to a secret formula. Although the garments were initially manufactured above Broome’s shop from fabric produced by the Bruce Woollen Manufacturing Company in Milton, Otago, the waterproofing process was done in a shed in the backyard of Broome’s home in Doralto Road. His children were expected to help, but disliked the task because of the strong smell of the waterproofing solution.
Broome sold the Swanndris direct from his New Plymouth shop and also distributed them around the country. He promoted their waterproof qualities by various means, such as displaying one outside the shop on a dressmaker’s dummy with water from a hose running over the top. Customers could see for themselves that the wearer would remain completely dry. Over the years the garment has been particularly popular with farmers, other outdoor workers and trampers.
Broome’s clothing business thrived and in 1935 he went into partnership with C. W. Lynch, establishing the men’s outfitters shop Broome and Lynch on the corner of Liardet and Devon streets in New Plymouth.
In addition to running his business, Broome participated in a variety of community activities. He was a member of several sports clubs, playing cricket, tennis, bowls and golf. He also took an active interest in music and amateur dramatics: he sang in the local male voice choir, was a founding member of the first Savage Club formed in the city, and was a member of the New Plymouth Operatic Society, playing principal roles in some of their productions and assisting in the administration of the society.
William Broome died in New Plymouth on 8 June 1943, survived by his wife and five children. The Swanndri trademark was taken over in 1952 by his son Brian, who manufactured clothing under the label for about 3½ years. He then licensed John McKendrick of John Mack Limited to use the trademark in return for a royalty. McKendrick manufactured Swanndris in his Waitara factory. The design of the Swanndri shirt was altered to incorporate a hood and long sleeves. In 1964 McKendrick paid Brian Broome £350 for the entire rights to the trademark and John Mack Limited continued to produce a wide variety of clothing under the Swanndri label until 1975. The trademark was then sold to Alliance Textiles (NZ) Limited of Timaru. The firm now manufactures Swanndris for the New Zealand market and for export. In 1988 it adopted a stylised version of the swan logo.