One of the nation's leading retail giants, Roots Canada Ltd (Roots) was conceived on the grounds of Ontario's Algonquin Park by two young Americans from Detroit, Michigan. Friends, and future business partners, Michael Budman and Don Green first met in 1963 at Camp Tamakwa, where they became enamoured by the country's beauty and grace. Following graduation from Michigan State University, Budman moved to Canada seeking permanent residency (1969) and Green followed a few years later (1972).
With the rise of anti-fashion in the early 1970s, Budman and Green saw opportunity in a comfort-over-style shoe design known as the negative heel. Originally created by Anna Kalso, the new heel focused on the natural arch of the foot and its balance on land. The two Americans were inspired by the design and began sourcing local manufacturers that would produce their version of the popular style. Shortly after, the partners signed with the Boa Shoe Company, a small family-run business that completed their first order of 120 pairs of "Roots Shoes." The young retailers rented an 800-square-foot space on Yonge Street in Toronto, which still stands today, and began selling their shoes under the name "Roots." To mark their new venture, designers Robert Burns and Heather Cooper collaborated with the Roots team to create what we now recognize as the iconic beaver logo. With their fresh look, "Roots" officially opened on 15 August 1973.
By 1975, the "Roots Negative Heel Shoe" had gained immense popularity among Canadians and Americans, including a growing list of celebrities. Shoe production reached a high of 2000 pairs, which comprised a range of conventional styles, per week. Roots had become one of the nation's leading retailers, with 75 stores established by 1975.
Recognizing the volatility of a trend-driven business, the Roots team sought stability with new ventures that would secure steady sales and valuable publicity. With aspirations to penetrate the American market, the retail firm faced a trademark infringement suit from a New Jersey retail company with the same name (1979). Before the case was settled in Roots' favour, the Canadian-based company was denied access into the US for 9 years. With patience and planning, Roots re-entered America in 1988 and maintained steady growth throughout the economic recession. Its traditional apparel and nostalgic designs, like the "Roots Beaver Athletic Sweatshirt," resonated with consumers across North America.
In 1998, during the Nagano Olympic Winter Games, Roots outfitted Canadian athletes with its now signature "Poorboy Cap" design. The traditional style sparked a long-standing relationship between the brand and the Games. Roots began dressing individual national teams and then countries including Canada (2000, 2002, 2004), the United States (2002, 2004, 2006), Great Britain (2004) and Barbados (2004), with apparel fit for athletes and consumers worldwide.
Today, Roots remains a privately owned company with 125 stores in Canada, 4 in the United States, 40 in Taiwan and 5 in China. In addition to its state-of-the-art leather manufacturing plant in Toronto, successful e-commerce business and "Roots Home" line of furniture and other interior design products, the brand also maintains several licensed lines including watches, sporting gear, fragrances, and eyewear, and has a popular Roots Yoga Studio in mid-town Toronto. Budman and Green remain at the forefront of the firm and continue to produce comfortable classics inspired by their adopted country.
Author RYAN CHEUNG
Links to Other Sites
The website for Roots, a Canadian producer and retailer of leather goods, active athletic wear, yoga wear, accessories and home furnishings.