Perhaps it’s the belief that their forgotten relative had borne a great injustice; or had the resilience to survive six months at sea amongst disease and starvation; or maybe simply because they had such a strong will to trust in the future – all admirable qualities which have become part of the Australian psyche.
A new apparel company whose branding is tapping into this ethos of early Australian convict heritage is pentonvillain™, named after the so-called Pentonvillains, convicts that were transported to Australia from the Pentonville Prison in London and arrived in the Port Phillip District between 1840 and 1849.
Based in Melbourne, pentonvillain™ sells 100 per cent Australian Merino apparel that the company manufactures here in Australia. The Merino fabric is sourced from Woolmark licensee Charles Parsons. T-shirts and thermals comprise most of the company’s range, all emblazoned with designs that evoke the country’s convict heritage, but in a modern fashion and designed to appeal to the contemporary consumer.
The owner of pentonvillain™, Joe de Groot, said he was inspired by the Pentonvillain’s spirit of survival over adversity and their search for freedom, and his company has created a technical apparel range that is based on these uncompromising values.
The Australian textile manufacturing industry has been hit hard in recent years; there’s not many companies still making locally,” Mr de Groot said. “However I believe both domestic and international customers are prepared to buy Australian product if it is high quality and tells a story – like the pentonvillain™ products.”
“All our garments are premium quality. We are proud that our entire range is made from 100 per cent Australian Merino wool and that all garments are manufactured and printed here in Australia. Plus we feel our story about Australia’s convict heritage – tough times but with new beginnings – resonates with many people.”
While much 19th century apparel, such as the early convict suits, were made from wool, modern Merino apparel is very different in its look and feel – finer and more comfortable – thanks largely to the efforts of Australian woolgrowers.
Selective breeding of Merinos by Australian farmers in the 19th century produced the authentic Australian Merino sheep breed with its very fine wool. Their long, fine fibres were ideal to meet the demands of new industrialised spinning and weaving machines, enabling the production of lighter, softer wool fabrics. So by 1870 Australia led the world in both the quantity and quality of its wool production, as it does to this day.
“It’s truly incredible how much wool has changed and improved over the past 200 years,” Mr de Groot said. “Modern Australian Merino apparel is very versatile, and suitable for all seasons. It reacts to changes in body temperature and will keep you warm and insulated when you’re cold, or release heat and moisture when you’re hot. And being extremely fine, Merino fibres bend far more than traditional, coarser wool fibres, making Merino wool feel very soft and luxuriously gentle next to your skin.”
The pentonvillain™ owner added that online retailing is enabling small start-up brands like pentonvillain™ to enter the market and sell globally as well as domestically.
“pentonvillain™ has been selling products exclusively online to all parts of the world and we’ve found this strategy far more effective than going down the traditional distributor/retailer path.”
So while pentonvillain™ is inspired by events nearly 200 years ago, it is a thoroughly modern company, embracing the future – rather like the convicts did