To many, Canada’s national identity is inseparable from the image of a chubby beaver gliding past a dock, upon which sits a group of tawny athletes wearing camp socks and hoodies, their bodies slouched in weathered Muskoka chairs. In other words, it resembles a Roots ad.
Even if the iconic sportswear label, launched in 1973 by expatriate Americans Michael Budman and Don Green, didn’t define that nostalgic, outdoorsy Canuck aesthetic, it’s hard to dispute its role in the packaging and selling of it around the world. Since its inception, it has marketed a (somewhat exaggerated) predilection for snowshoes and lumberjack checks through everything from sweatshirts to airlines and, now, Roots: 40 Years of Style, a 232-page, visually rich coffee-table tome marking the company’s four decades in the style business.
Composed mainly of advertising imagery peppered by snapshots of celebrities (David Suzuki, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ross Rebagliati, Bill Clinton) sporting the brand’s durable gear, the book also contains congratulatory blurbs from friends and boosters of Budman and Green, including Martin Short, Robbie Robertson and Dan Aykroyd, who claims in his tribute that shopping at Roots is about “owning a piece of [the] country.”
Aykroyd is one of the many Hollywood heavyweights the co-founders have lured over the years into varsity jackets emblazoned with the word “Canada,” demonstrating the point that Douglas Coupland, another well-wisher, makes in the volume: Roots, Coupland writes, was the first brand “that ever actively said, ‘we are a Canadian company.’” (Despite heavy international expansion, particularly in Asia, it still maintains a leather factory in Toronto, where shoes and other leather goods are stitched.)
It is also noted, on the book’s dust jacket, that “Roots has a history that runs deep into the heart of this country.” Not to mention vice versa.
Roots: 40 Years of Style by Michael Budman and Don Green ($39.95) is published by House of Anansi Press.