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Posted Sep 27, 2010 in For Both | 1 Comment

Cowichan Sweaters

I had all the intentions of writing this post about how amazing Cowichan sweaters are. (‘What is this?’ you might ask. Well, read on…) Recently I was at a launch party for the new Mode Montreal website, and in a sea of little black dresses and blazers I noticed someone wearing what I instantly recognized as a handmade Cowichan sweater.

Having just spent the summer back home in B.C. I had to ask where they got it, and was told that yes in fact it was a real Cowichan Sweater. He had gotten on a trip to Merritt, B.C. Cowichan sweaters are recognizable as rugged wool sweaters with traditional Coast Salish images, such as Orcas or Ravens. Authentic Cowichan sweaters are produced by the West Coast Salish Natives in the Cowichan Valley. The artisans there spend countless hours on each sweater. The sheep’s natural oils are left on the carefully spun wool, which makes the sweaters extremely insulating and also water resistant.

I could go on forever about the qualities of these sweaters, however while researching for this article, I came across some unpleasant news. For the 2010 Olympics, the Hudson’s Bay Company chose a B.C. supplier of hand-knit sweaters to produce its new ‘Olympic sweaters’ with a design that “nods towards this icon of Canadian fashion.” Prior to this, HBC had rejected the Cowichan Tribe’s proposal to produce these sweaters for the Olympics, saying the traditional knitters could not produce the volume they needed.

So, as we see time and time again in this business, HBC chose to run a line of knock-off Cowichan sweaters (which still went flying off the shelf). It bothers me when things like this happen, especially knowing that most of the consumers of the $350 fake Cowichan sweaters were none the wiser. Although the Cowichan Tribes may have tried to seek legal action against HBC, nothing has ever come of this, (as it was probably one of the smaller injustices served to the Native People during the Games).  I feel as though a company such as HBC, who pride themselves on being a part of what built Canada in the first place, should pay way more respect to authentic Canadian apparel. So, in any case, I will be the one to give a shout out to this awesome knitwear, and if you ever have the chance, make sure you get your hands on a real one.

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  1. For anyone looking to find one of these sweaters you can order them here: http://cowichantrading.com

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