Think that Roots is only a Great White North phenomenon? Think again. The preppy, outdoorsy Canadiana clothing label has some serious international street cred. Ever since it came on the scene in 1973, the beloved beaver-hugging brand has been associated with some of the greatest cultural icons of our time, including David Bowie, John Belushi, Bill Clinton, and my personal favourite, Neville Staple of the Specials, just to name a few. All of this can be seen in the impressively rendered Roots: 40 Years of Style (House of Anansi), a recently published coffee-table book that commemorates the company’s star-studded history.
It was during the book’s West Coast launch party at Roots (1001 Robson Street) that the Georgia Straight caught up with cofounder Don Green to talk about the making of this challenging yet ultimately rewarding project. As Green recalls, one of the first orders of business was sorting through four decades’ worth of photographs—something he and cofounder Michael Budman didn’t take an immediate shine to. But with some prodding from their respective wives and for the sake of the book, they learned to like it.
“Michael and I are not big ‘back in the day’ kind of guys,” Green says. “We tend to be more about the now and the future. So we had to force ourselves to really think back and reminisce and look at all these pictures, but we eventually got into it and embraced it. We thought, ‘For a time capsule, great—we’ll do it. We’ll look at old stuff, and then we need to get back to the now and the future.’ ”
Then came the designing of the book. Again, the process had its share of ups and downs.
Green admits “it was fun and not so fun”. “I stepped in when it was well into progress and wasn’t particularly pleased with the initial design of it—loved the concept of it but didn’t like that particular layout.…I just didn’t feel it had the right feel to it. But we pulled it together, and I think the book turned out incredibly well.”
Indeed. In addition to celeb cameos, there are some great Canadian moments captured on camera, including the time Jamaica’s bobsled team famously showed up for the 1988 Calgary Olympics sans winter wear. Upon hearing about this, Roots outfitted them with some stellar (not to mention warm) green, black, and yellow jackets. There’s also a pic of Canuck Dan Aykroyd arm in arm with the cofounders and a Roots-clad Chris Farley. Then there’s the image of Green and Budman having some sort of tête-à-tête with Pierre Trudeau outside Parliament.
Royal watchers will appreciate the photo series taken in Vancouver circa ’98. Princes William and Harry, alongside their dad, are sporting shy smiles and Roots poorboy hats (made famous by Olympian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati). Some consider this to be the first time the bereaved boys were photographed looking relatively happy since the loss of their mother.
While there’s been a lot of hobnobbing over the years, it hasn’t derailed Budman and Green from the business of designing quality leather goods and developing their signature cabin couture. This season, for example, they’ve stayed the course with woolly tuques, cozy monkey socks, and lumberjack plaids—in other words, classic Roots!
Of course, one thing that has changed dramatically over the years is marketing technology. Green admits they happily rely on their kids and core team members to keep them up to speed on the social-media front. Yet when it came time to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, they didn’t go with a tweet-up or an Instagram competition. Instead, they opted for this hard-copy book filled with old photographs of them and their legions of fans.
Interesting choice, no? “Well, we looked better back then,” Green says with a laugh.