There is something quintessentially Australian about Speedos. Nevertheless, little do most people know, a Scot created the famous swimwear donned by hundreds and thousands of people every year. This month we look at Alexander MacRae – the creator of the humble Speedos.
Alexander MacRae left his home in Loch Kishorn in the west of the Highlands to begin life in Sydney, keen to find success in the world of business. He initially found work as a milk merchant, but by 1914, he had established his own underwear-manufacturing firm – MacRae and Company Hosiery – under the brand name Fortitude. Readers familiar with the MacRae clan crest will be familiar with the origins of that particular brand name. During the First World War, the AIF’s need for socks gave profits a large boost, giving MaCrae the money he needed to grow his business.
In 1928, MacRae ran a competition among his staff to find a name for the swimming costumes his company had begun to sell in large amounts. One Captain Parsonson, a former sailor, received five pounds for his slogan, ‘Speed on in your Speedos’. Within the year, MacRae had begun manufacturing swimwear under the new brand name. Establishing himself as the creator of the ultimate swimwear for athletes and the public alike, MacRae earned himself the nickname ‘The Speedo King’.
After focusing all of his company’s production on the war effort during the Second World War, MacRae’s company turned a new page in 1945, opening a new factory to cope with increased demand for swimsuits – partly due to the rising popularity of the bikini.
The popularity of the swimwear he created continues to this day, with a host of celebrities supporting the latest designs. From Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig in the Bond movies, to Prince William and Mikhail Gorbachev strutting their stuff in the tabloids, Speedos have remained a constantly favoured piece of swimwear, not mention the Australian swimmers who regularly dominate in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
A Speedo spokesman told Scotland’s Daily Mail in 2006 that ‘the values that Alexander MacRae started Speedo with and maintained through the years remain important to us. He put family at the heart of everything he did and worked closely with his five sons, while his relationships with staff and other business people were always based on trust – that’s the way he built up his business, through friendship and trust.’
MacRae died in 1938 at the age of 50 on November 30, St. Andrews Day. We do not need to remind anyone of the preponderance of entrepreneurial flair amongst Scottish migrants to Australia, but Alexander MacRaw deserves recognition for his immeasurable contribution to the Australian cultural tradition. After all, what would a trip to the beach be without sighting the ubiquitous Speedos?