Speedo’s Bondi Connection
The Speedo story began in 1910 when a young Scot, Alexander MacRae, migrated to Australia. Four years later he set up an underwear manufacturing business at Bondi called MacRae Hosiery. In response to the growing beach culture in Australia, MacRae quickly expanded his operations to include swimwear and changed the company name to MacRae Knitting Mills.
The first swimming costumes were manufactured in 1914 under the brand name ‘Fortitude’, a name taken from the motto on the MacRae clan crest: ‘With Fortitude’.
During the 1920s the swimwear market grew rapidly thanks to the acceptance of swimming as a sport and a more liberal attitude towards mixed bathing. But the iconic Australian brand name Speedo was not known until 1928.
In 1928 MacRae Knitting Mills unveiled a new range of swimwear on Bondi Beach, including a revolutionary new design known as the ‘Racer-Back’. MacRae held a staff competition to find a name and slogan for the range with Captain Jim Parsons winning the £5 prize for the name Speedo and slogan ‘Speed on in your Speedos’. The following year the company changed its name to Speedo Knitting Mills.
The Racer-Back was a figure-hugging costume with cut-away shoulders, which permitted greater freedom of movement when swimming. These shoulder straps allowed a greater range of motion in the water, allowing the users to swim faster, unworried by shoulder straps slipping off. Its sleekness also reduced fabric drag in the water.
Unsurprisingly, these qualities meant the design was quickly adopted by competitive swimmers, despite being banned on some beaches. When Swedish swimmer Arne Borg set a world record in 1929 in a Speedo costume, the brand became forever linked with swimming champions. This in turn fuelled advertising for the costume, where it was described as being the same kind of swimwear used by record breakers.
The newly named Speedo brand was soon established in the hearts and minds of the general public. Speedo also advertised that the Racer-Back costume would appeal to the ‘sun baker’ as it ‘gives maximum body exposure to tonic sunshine’.
In 1932 Speedo made its debut on the international stage when 16 year-old Australian Clare Dennis won the women’s 200-metre breaststroke at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. After nearly being disqualified for ‘showing too much shoulder’ in her silk Speedo costume, Dennis went on to set a world record. The following year the term Speedo was patented in Australia. The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games also saw swimsuit controversy as the Australian men’s team featured Speedo’s topless swimming trunks for the first time. This bare-chested swimwear was very risqué.
Speedos’ sponsorship of the all-conquering eight gold-medal-winning Australian swimming team at the 1956 Olympic Games gave them huge market share. The swimming brand’s name became synonymous with any kind of swimmers, the phrase “Don’t forget your Speedos” translating to “Don’t forget your swimming costume”.
Disappointingly, in 1990-1991 the Speedo brand was sold to British company Pentland Group.