To mark Canada 150, Globe Style's Clearly Canadian series explores iconic examples of domestic design. This is the final instalment.
Roots co-founders Michael Budman and Don Green grew up in Detroit. As children, they attended Tamakwa, a rustic summer camp founded in 1936 in Algonquin Park, and fell hard for the wilds of Canada. Both still have cottages nearby on Smoke Lake.
Roots, their clothing brand, was founded on the soles of their original Made-in-Canada negative-heel shoe sensation in 1973. The uber-Canadian brand has successfully parlayed a certain woodsy lodge look into fashion both high and low. Roots mines cultural signifiers that are the sartorial equivalent of comfort food but elevates them season after season: A typical red Woolrich hoser buffalo plaid, for example, is envisioned as a haute tailored barn jacket and becomes street style catnip. The company now has 119 stores in North America, 114 in Taiwan and 25 in China. Last year, a majority stake in the heritage Canadian brand was sold to private equity firm Searchlight Capital Partners, but Budman and Green, as substantial shareholders, maintain active management roles.
Russell Athletics created the first cotton knit jersey sweatshirt in the 1920s, and Champion claims to have originated the hooded sweatshirt in the early 1930s when it was known as the Knickerbocker Knitting Company and manufactured outdoor workwear and athletic gear. Roots launched its first sweats in the wake of the 1976 underdog film Rocky. The built-in front-muff pocket is as pragmatic as Canadians and comes in handy on cold northern summer nights. Another Hollywood cameo: Roots leather shoes and belts were first seen on the big screen accenting Richard Gere's slinky Giorgio Armani wardrobe in American Gigolo (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also from Detroit, is Green's cousin). The company has a long and storied history of celebrity partnerships and ad campaigns including actors such as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and athletes like Blue Jay third baseman Josh Donaldson and Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden.
The Roots sweatshirt wears its heart – and logo – on its chest. The beaver is pure Canadiana, referencing the pelts that were articles of trade between indigenous communities and European colonials. For decades, the beaver has been the company's mascot, most often as a discreet logo appliquéd to its Made-in-Canada leather handbags, like those in its bestselling Tribe leather and in an upcoming Heritage collection that revives original styles. The beaver also happens to be Tamakwa's long-time logo.
The brand's summer "Be Nice" campaign timed to Canada's sesquicentennial cheekily appropriates the stereotype of polite Canadians. It features an art space, online film and fundraising campaign tied to the sale of buttons emblazoned with the word "nice." One hundred per cent of the profits raised from sales of the pins will support indigenous youth leadership programs. It's the sincere style equivalent of the somewhat smug social media meme "Meanwhile, in Canada…"
Co-founders Budman and Green became Canadian citizens in 2013. More recently, Budman and his architect wife Diane Bald – who attended the nearby girls' camp Wapomeo on Canoe Lake and is the company's long-time design director – have literally gone back to their roots. Earlier this year, the Budmans purchased Camp Tamakwa and are now working on the restoration and preservation of the beloved place where the brand's love affair with Canada started. "Our philosophy is always leave the campsite – or the world – better than you found it," says Budman. "That's the main ethos of Roots and we learned that from Lou Handler, cofounder of Tamakwa."