Volume 92, Issue 31

Thursday, October 29, 1998

behind closed doors


Americanized Canuck culture

Photo Bryce Duffy

ARTISTIC PHOTO OR MUG SHOT? WHO CAN TELL? Monodo Canuck author Geoff Pevere speaks of his latest work, Team Spirit: A Field Guide to Roots' Culture in the McKellar Room today at noon.

By Aaron Wherry

Gazette Staff

Who you are can largely be shown in your Roots, be it a blue beaver sweat shirt or a fine leather sleeved Olympic jacket.

In this fashion conscious and commercialized world, a clothing company can have a huge impact on personal identity and culture. In the case of Roots Canada Ltd., it has influenced the entire country's identity and culture.

For this reason, journalist and author Geoff Pevere decided to tackle the clothing conglomerate in his new book Team Spirit: A Field Guide to Roots Culture.

"What interested me most about Roots was the culture marketing, culture promotion, which it has brilliantly established around itself in the last quarter century," Pevere explains. "I was interested in picking that apart and looking at it from a number of different angles to see how it developed, who it appeals to and how it's changed over the years."

From the early days in the '70s of selling reverse heeled shoes, Team Spirit recounts how Roots' co-founders Don Green and Michael Budman built their small business based on the rural culture of Canada, into a financial and cultural empire. But in doing so, Pevere was careful not to write an overblown Roots catalogue.

"I'm not interested in attacking them nor making love to the company either," Pevere says. "What I'm interested in doing is a kind of critical cultural study, because to me, what is most interesting about a company like Roots is the culture it creates for itself."

This culture of wilderness, woodland creatures and youthful exuberance has been marketed so brilliantly that not only do people identify themselves with the culture Roots created, but they also attach that culture to their image of Canada. Roots is not just something to keep you warm, it's something with which to cover your national heroes and Olympic athletes.

"All successful marketing to a certain extent is based on fantasy," Pevere explains. "Because of the entire range of things that we consume and invest in, most of those things are non-essential – we don't need them. You have to create an appetite or appeal, or apparent need, where a real need doesn't actually exist. What Roots has managed to do is to create an image of Canada, which I would argue is not a real image, it is an appealing image."

Herein lies the genius. These two entrepreneurs were savvy enough and lucky enough to step in and grab this golden goose that was just waiting to be used, catching everyone else napping.

"Roots came along at a time in this country's history where I think there was an awful lot of embarrassment at the kind of image of Canada as a place populated by Mounties, whispering pines and moose. During the '60s and '70s, the country was trying to put as much distance between itself and its image. It was trying to establish itself as a credible urban environment," Pevere says.

"As the country became more separated from these rural, wilderness roots, the more romantic the attachment becomes to it. What's amazing is that these guys anticipated that there would be that kind of interest for this version and that it took a couple of guys from Detroit to see it."

The reader's astonishment in learning how two Americans greatly influenced Canadian culture is only surpassed by these two entrepreneurs' own surprise in learning that Canadians were ignoring their own cultural appeal. They have since used this previously untapped resource as the foundation of their multimillion dollar corporation. And Pevere's book catches it all just as it reaches its greatest heights.

Team Spirit is an objective look at Roots culture and its history. But most importantly, it gives us a unique insight into Canadian individuality and nationalism.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998