Olympic Cowichan Sweater Not Made by Natives

Olympic sweater not a Cowichan, Hudson's Bay Company says

By Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun, October 8, 2009

The hot-selling, $350 hand-knit Olympic sweater flying off store shelves at The Bay is definitely not a Cowichan sweater, Hudson's Bay Company insisted Thursday.

"It is a contemporary design inspired by a great fashion icon that is recognized as a knit sweater all across the country," HBC said in a statement.

The explanation comes as Cowichan Tribes officials accuse the retail giant of stealing their iconic sweater design after rejecting their proposal to produce Cowichan sweaters for HBC's line of 2010 Olympic clothing.

"We believe they are not very good knock-offs of the genuine Cowichan sweater," Cowichan Tribes general manager Ernest Elliott said in an interview. "Anything that tries to resemble a genuine Cowichan sweater is a fake."

The Olympic sweater — featuring a maple leaf and elk — has become one of the clothing line's most popular items since HBC unveiled it amid tremendous fanfare last week.

HBC said it considered using traditional Cowichan knitters to produce its sweaters, but felt they could not meet its strict standards.

"It was clear that they were unable to meet Hudson's Bay Company requirements as a national retailer for consistency, speed to market and volume for delivery," the company statement said.

HBC 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, while adding our own contemporary twists including type of wool, colour, pattern complexity and logos."

The company stressed the elks on the front of the Olympic sweater — representing strength and agility — are featured in the HBC crest.

Elliott said HBC wanted traditional Cowichan knitters to produce 700 to 800 sweaters in the 10-month period before last week's Olympic wear launch. He said the job could have been done, with about 25 knitters, for a price of less than $300 a sweater.

"We were going to enlist the aid of all of our relatives on the east coast of Vancouver Island and even on the [Lower] Mainland to produce that many sweaters," Elliott said. "It would have been a stretch, but we were sure willing to give it a try.

"I can't describe what we would have felt if all the Canadian athletes walked into the opening ceremonies with genuine Cowichan sweaters."

He noted the Cowichan sweater is a registered trademark, so Cowichan Tribes will seek legal advice to determine if it will launch legal action against HBC.