|Founded||Toronto, Ontario, Canada (1973 )|
|Founder||Michael Budman and Don Green|
|Headquarters||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
Number of locations
|120 Canadian and American stores; 65 locations in Asia|
|Canada, United States, Asia|
|Products||Apparel, leather goods, active athletic wear, yoga wear, accessories, home furnishings|
Number of employees
|2,000 in Canada|
Roots Canada Ltd. (or Roots) is a privately held Canadian brand. It sells women’s, men’s, children’s and babies apparel; leather bags; footwear; active athletic wear; belts, small leather goods; and home furnishings. Their design centre and leather factory are both located in Toronto, Ontario. Roots employs 1,600 people in Canada. As of May 2013, Roots operated 210 stores located in Canada, the United States, and Asia, and ships to 50 countries online.
In 1973, Don Green and Michael Budman founded Roots, initially a footwear company that sold the Negative Heel Shoes before expanding their product offering. With the expertise of the Kowalewski family and their company business the Boa Shoe Company, Negative Heel Shoes became the defining product of Roots. Roots opened its first store on Yonge St. near the Rosedale subway station, in Toronto, Canada in August 1973. A couple of months later, Roots bought the Boa Shoe Company and opened their first leather factory. Towards the end of the year, Roots had stores in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and a few locations in the U.S.
As the demand for the Negative Heel Shoes continued, the Roots factory expanded and by the fall of 1975 the factory that was initially making only 30 pairs of shoes a day was making more than 2,000. Later that year, Roots decided to experiment with a range of casual apparel. 
By 1977, Roots had expanded to 65 retail outlets across North America and Europe, and had 250 employees. Roots then began the transition from making Negative Heel Shoes to making footwear with a wedge sole and introduced classic handbags inspired by Europe’s leading fashion. The company began wholesaling bags, footwear, belts and leather jackets to Canadian retailers like Eaton’s and Holt Renfrew, and major U.S. retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. Roots continued to expand its line of products by introducing Roots Design in 1979, their first line of men’s tailored clothing.
By the end of 1980, with the closing of many stores in the U.S. and Europe, Roots began to expand in Canada. The expansion ushered in the manufacturing of T-shirts and sweatshirts on a small scale, and the creation of the brand’s label Beaver Canoe, a joint venture canoe building operation with Camp Tamakwa’s co-founder Omer Stringer. Clothing and outdoor items were then created under the Beaver Canoe brand in 1983. Two years later, Roots officially launched Roots Beaver Athletics (RBA) with the beaver logo and by the early nineties, the logo had appeared on more than a million garments.
Roots began to expand in Asia in 1993 starting with two stores in Japan, where the Negative Heel Shoes had a second life and continued to expand throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Although Roots stores have since closed in certain areas of Asia, Roots in Taiwan and China began to expand in the 2000s. Over the last few years, these stores have expanded their product offering to include apparel as well as leather goods, kids apparel and home furnishings. Roots Taiwan launched a separate website in 2011. As of May 2013, Roots had 75 retail outlets in Taiwan and 16 in China with plans for continued expansion.
Roots contributed to the Olympic games in 1976, providing 200 quilted “Puff” boots to the Canadian Team at the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1988, Roots provided Jamaica’s Olympic bobsled team with custom made jackets. The story is made famous by the 1993 hit movie Cool Runnings starring John Candy wearing a Roots jacket. Roots created a special retail collection of clothes in honour of the 1994 Canadian Olympic team, under the banner "Roots Salutes the Canadian Olympic Team". Roots designed a jacket for the Norwegian skier and Olympic Gold Medalist Stein Eriksen for the Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 1994.
In 1998, Roots began its formal Olympic involvement, outfitting the Canadian team at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. The outfit's most popular item was the red “poorboy” cap (or poor boy cap) worn backwards, which became fashionable and were seen on celebrities such as Prince William and P. Diddy. Roots at one point sold 100,000 of these berets a day at US$19.95 a piece, eventually selling over half a million.
Roots went on to be the official outfitter for members of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Teams from 2000 to 2004, and was the official outfitter for the Canadian Speed Skating Team in 2006. Roots outfitted the United States Olympic and Paralympic Teams in 2002, 2004, and 2006. Other teams that Roots outfitted include the British Olympic Team (2002, 2004), and the Barbados Olympic Team (2004).
In 2005 Roots was outbid on the Canadian Olympic contract by Hudson's Bay Company (sold through The Bay and Zellers), and in 2008 the USOC replaced Roots with Polo Ralph Lauren. The USOC had a disagreement with Roots over the direction of the athletes' uniforms, but it is also suggested that Roots did not want its brand to be involved with the 2008 Summer Olympics which saw much political controversy over human rights.
Roots has 120 stores in North America, including five flagship stores in Canada located in Toronto (on Bloor St., The Eaton Centre, and Yorkdale Shopping Centre), Vancouver (on Robson St.), and Montreal (Centreville). Other notable locations include: Rosedale in Toronto, Beverly Hills in California, Market Mall in Calgary (all leather store). In 2013, Roots opened new locations in Montreal (Westmount), Halifax (Spring Garden).
Roots and Canada
Co-founders Don Green and Michael Budman were inspired by their passion for Ontario’s Algonquin Park and everything it represented for them. Their goal was to translate their affinity for the Canadian wilderness and sports into a line of leather products and athletic wear.
The Roots logo – featuring the Cooper font and the quintessential Canadian animal, the beaver – was designed by two of Canada’s graphic designers of the 1970s, Heather Cooper and Robert Burns. It was a coincidence that they came up with the beaver without any prompting from Green and Budman as it was also used in the logo of Camp Tamakwa, a place which strongly influenced the Roots co-founders in their youth.
Leather goods have been at the heart of Roots since the company's inception in 1973 when they began making leather shoes in Toronto. The Roots factory was under the direction of Jan Kowalewski and his four sons (Richard, Stan, Henry and Karl). They stressed quality and Canadian craftsmanship, which could be seen in Roots ads from 1974 and early 1975, where Roots launched a continent-wide advertising campaign “City Feet Need Roots” created by David Parry. These advertisements could be seen on the TTC, magazines and newspapers in North America. Today, the Kowalewski’s continue to run the factory.
The company has an environmental commitment, which includes using recycled, reclaimed and non-toxic materials in the building of stores; making sustainable products; supporting environmental organizations and related projects. Roots has supported environmental organizations throughout its history including: The Rainforest Foundation, Ecology House, Waterkeeper Alliance, Toronto Green Awards, David Suzuki Foundation, Stop Global Warming Fund, Centre For Environmental Education (Antioch New England Graduate School), World Wildlife Fund, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Flick Off, Earth Hour, and the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.
Roots has a Community Support program that provides assistance to charitable organizations including Rethink Breast Cancer, Canadian Blood Services, AIDS Conference, Right to Play, Free the Children, War Child Canada, World Vision, ThinkFirst Canada, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada.
Over the years, Roots has supported Canadian athletes such as Razor Ruddock, Kurt Browning, Alexandre Despatie, Catriona Le May Doan, Eric Lamaze, Jamie Salé/David Pelletier, Ross Rebagliati, Elvis Stojko, The Canadian Speed Skating Team, Adam van Koeverden, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
In popular culture
In 1984, Roots launched its Entertainment Merchandising and Wholesaling division and provided goods to cast and crew of Days of Thunder, Jurassic Park, Spider-man, 007 Die Another Day, Iron Man, and The Bourne Ultimatum. Roots also custom made orders for TV shows like the X-files, Friends, The Sopranos, The Office, Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Amazing Race, as well as for music celebrities like U2, Madonna, The Rolling Stones, and Snoop Lion.
Characters Matthew (Vincent Spano) and Brad Berman (Kevin Pollak) in the 1993 film Indian Summer are based on Roots founders, Don Green and Michael Budman, who attended Camp Tamakwa, the camp where the movie was filmed in Ontario's Algonquin park. Most of the apparel and bags featured in the film were made by Roots.
In more recent films, the Roots Village Bag was featured in The Hangover (2009), while the Roots Messenger Bag was worn by Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached (2011). Roots was featured in season 12 of Degrassi: The Next Generation, building a replica retail store for filming.
- Company Fact Sheet
- Shaw, Holly, “Sinking Roots in Canada,” Financial Post, June 10, 2011. Retrieved May 15, 2013 from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/06/10/sinking-roots-in-canada/
- Ryval, Michael, “Roots firmly planted,” Toronto Life, Mar 1977, p.113, p.115
- Toronto Life, March 1977, p. 115.
- Posner, Michael. “Happy Campers,” Toronto Life, October 1993. p.53
- Pevere, Geoff. Team Spirit, 1998. p.112.
- Ryval, 54.
- Pevere, 114.
- Aoki, Naomi. “Canadian Firm Goes for the Gold: Retailer Roots is hoping to build on its Olympic success to outfit more athletes and consumers,” The Boston Globe, August 12, 2004, Retrieved May 26, 2013, from http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2004/08/12/canadian_firm_goes_for_the_gold/?page=full
- Winans, Vanessa. “Roots of Style: Company’s Olympic Beret are the latest must have accessory,” The Blade, Feb 21, 2002. Retrieved May 26, 2013, from http://www.toledoblade.com/frontpage/2002/02/21/Roots-of-style-Company-s-Olympic-berets-are-the-latest-must-have-accessory.html
- Parry, David, “Proud of their Roots: A Canadian shoe makes tracks around the world,“ NewsPrint, 1975 issue 4. p.15
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