Meet the Illawarra woman making a hands-on Wollongong manufacturer business a global success

Among the Illawarra business success stories of 2016 is Tanya Van Der Water who was named runner up to Lisa Burling for the title of Illawarra Business Woman of the Year.

Business success: Buckaroo Leatherworks boss Tanya Van Der Water is carrying on her late father's legacy and expanding the business's reach globally. It has also launched a new traineeship and runs leatherwork classes. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Business success: Buckaroo Leatherworks boss Tanya Van Der Water is carrying on her late father's legacy and expanding the business's reach globally. It has also launched a new traineeship and runs leatherwork classes. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Ms Van Der Water, of Buckaroo Leatherworks, is the daughter of founder Kenneth Van Der Water who started in the backyard of his South African home in 1971. He was a leatherworker, industrial designer and machinist who designed and crafted footwear, handbags, belts and leather accessories for men and women. 

The business moved to the Illawarra two decades ago and diversified in the late 90’s when cheap imports began to flood into Australia. Mr Van Der Water’s fighting spirit resulted in him revolutionising the way tradies carry tools. When he died five years ago his daughter took over as company director and set about finding more ways to diversify and expand into new markets from Ralph Black Drive.

“Our growth has been quite significant since moving in here,” Ms Van Der Water said.

So significant Buckaroo was named Best Business at the 2016 Illawarra Women in Business Awards. Ms Van Der Water has been involved in the advent of a new traineeship and become an advocate for Australian manufacturing but had not before mixed in much female company.

“The industries we supply to are mining, heavy construction and the army. I was about 18 when my dad approached me and said “here is our family business, do you want to be a part of it?” I initially said “no”. Then he said “I have just designed a new belt for tradesmen”. I thought the idea was great. So I joined him at the time the business diversified. We worked together for 11 years,” she said.

Ms Van Der Water continued to diversify the business after her father died.

“We have just started exporting to the United States. We have started that with a distributor who also works with Redback Boots that are still made here in Australia. That is giving us a niche market over there..that is very quickly overtaking our production for Australia”.

Buckaroo employs more than 25 people, has developed a new website, is attending trade shows in the USA and is expanding the traineeship program (Certificate IV in Production) it helped initiate.

“Bringing in more trainees is pretty vital. We work with our hands. We don’t have a lot of machinery. We have had about 10 trainees go through the program. That will ramp up now. We need that extra manpower,” Ms Van Der Water said.

After the IWIB Awards leatherwork classes Buckaroo runs with Wild Rumpus have regularly sold out.

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