Granted Clothing puts new spin on Cowichan sweaters

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      Cowichan-inspired motifs meet hoodies, leggings, and more in a Richmond line’s spin on old sweaters.

      At first glance, Granted’s designs look like the vintage Cowichan sweaters hipsters around the world have been hunting down with the same fervour they reserve for old vinyl. On one zip-up version, an iconic deer leaps across the thick knit front, but the scrolling stripe pattern above and below it loops out of control, dipping down into the bottom band, as if some deranged five-year-old drew it. On another, the traditional brown and cream hues are there, but instead of pine trees and buffalo, the motifs are palm trees and camels.

      By playing with the design, adding features like hoods and funky wood zipper pulls, and even venturing into ponchos, handbags, and leggings to go over Ugg boots, the new Richmond-based line is building on a Canadian winter classic’s cult following. It’s putting cool twists on an old standard to appeal to a new generation.

      “We always say our stuff is Cowichan-inspired. Our designs are inspired by Cowichan sweaters, but we use a finer grade of wool,” explains Minoru Hirano, a small mountain of sweaters, vests, and leggings piled on the table in front of him. “Our shapes are a lot more slim and modern. The ones you see at gift shops, they’re a lot boxier and with a lot heavier gauge.”

      Hirano should know: his parents’ family-run business, Flyer Hooks, has been crafting Cowichan-style sweaters for those stores since 1978. Hirano’s Japan-born father started the company after he moved to Vancouver, began working as a tour guide, and saw Japanese visitors eagerly snapping up authentic, hand-knit Northwest Coast–style sweaters. Under the label Thunderbird, the company slowly developed a fleet of home knitters to produce iconic animal- and bird-motif knits to meet the demand. Today, almost 50 knitters work for the brand under a knitting manager who is part quality control, part teacher. “They’re all at-home moms and grandmothers doing it by piecework,” Hirano says.

      It’s important to stop here and remember that the Cowichan look has been appropriated and reappropriated over the past hundred years. The roots of the original Cowichan sweater are at the turn of the last century, with the Coast Salish weavers who brought some of their ancient blanket traditions to knitting. They crafted their bulky, waterproof sweaters from undyed grey, brown, or white wool, often emblazoned with eagles, deer, whales, or—yes—thunderbirds. They created an iconic Canadian look that would go on to be worn by prime ministers and royalty. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Cowichans were a widespread fad, with home knitters and large-scale manufacturers pumping out their own versions by the thousands.

      Fastforward to the mid 2000s, and indie-minded urbanites (hello, Nardwuar) are proudly sporting chunky vintage knits. The Cowichan-inspired style has also hit the mainstream, with large-scale American labels like Gant and the Gap recently doing their own riffs on the look. But perhaps nowhere is the appetite for Cowichans bigger than it is in Japan, the trendsetting capital of the universe.

      Hirano, who travels there frequently, flips through a recent copy of the men’s mag Non-no, Japan’s GQ equivalent, its photo spreads littered with the buffalo- and deer-emblazoned sweaters. He knows the market there, and it’s obsessed with finding sweaters that are well crafted, hand-knit, and made in Canada from pure wool.

      Using their parents’ company’s knitters as a resource, Hirano and his sister Ai Hirano decided to launch a younger line, Granted. The well-travelled pair chose the name for the fact that, no matter where they go around the world, they never take their beautiful West Coast hometown for granted.

      The line is broken up into several collections. Great White North is the most Canadian, with all the classic motifs. Whales spout across a little, wood-button-fastened purse; a giant, teal stag head looks out from the back of an otherwise traditional grey-and-white zip-up sweater. Elsewhere, there’s a smart take on that ultimate hoser uniform, the mac jacket—a hand-knit, zip-up vest with the oversized red-and-black check, complete with a black roll-neck collar like the old Cowichans had.

      The From Cairo to Kokomo collection ventures into funkier territory. Hirano says: “This is my sister’s and my more wild side, incorporating our travels into the designs. Instead of a pine tree, it’s a palm tree; instead of a grizzly, it’s a camel. It’s more for the skinny-jean-wearing urban crowd.” The colours are more playful too: bright purple palm trees sway across one black-and-grey hoodie.

      Hirano’s travels also inspired Granted’s Bunka Knits series, a grouping emblazoned with aboriginal motifs from around the world. Specifically, he’s celebrating the abstract, scrolling designs of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, where Hirano snowboards every year. “These motifs are meant to keep the bad spirits out of your building—kind of a protecting symbol,” he explains. The collection also includes his so-called Ghenghis tuques: striped, pompom-topped and fleece-lined hats with earflaps and a funky front flap that fastens over the forehead with two wood buttons.

      And on the higher end, Granted has introduced an ultra-soft blend of merino wool and possum hair—a luxe, softer-than-cashmere-feeling yarn with a slight angoralike “halo effect”—that’s woven into hoodies, tuques, and scarves.

      In all, Granted has come up with quite a range of riffs on the old standard, with prices drifting anywhere from about $47 for a handbag to $67 for leg warmers up to $314 for that possum-wool hoodie. Because the line is brand new, it’s only available in Whistler (Amos & Andes, Pure Australia) and on-line. But if Hirano has his way, his sweaters—like the ones his parents make—should be big in Japan in no time.