Canadian Fashion Connection – Tundra sweaters

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The Standard Knitting Co. building on Dufferin Street in Winnipeg, c. 1930 – 1967

In 1904, twenty-one year old Moishe Halparin fled to Winnipeg with his father and younger brother from the pogroms of Russia. In 1909 he married Clara Fiskin and after his first business venture in wholesale meat failed, Halparin bought a small knitting company that had been established in 1923. Knowing nothing of the knitting business Halparin hired a Mr. Penny from Scotland to successfully manage the factory. By 1930 the Standard Knitting Company Limited was operating from a small factory next to Halparin’s house at 387 Dufferin street in Winnipeg. The company prospered and its sweaters were carried nationwide by the T. Eaton and Hudson’s Bay companies.

Moishe Halparin died in 1947 but the company continued to be operated by the family until 1967 when it was sold to partners Lou Kliman and Hugh Lowery who moved the factory to a modern plant on Inkster Blvd. Under the ownership of Kliman and Lowery Standard Knitting became famous for their Tundra line of sweaters. According to Halparin’s granddaughter, Morri Mostow, ‘Tundra’ was a brand name originally created by her father for a line of men’s sweaters in the 1950s.

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Tundra Sweater c. 1990

By the late 1980s, Tundra sweaters were being made that resembled the colourful Coogi sweaters from Australia, Tundra sweaters used a bright array of colours in a patchwork of knitting techniques. Crazy patterned sweaters became an iconic style in the late 1980s and early 1990s due in part to their popularization by Bill Cosby’s character Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby show (1984-1992.) Early episodes featured Dr. Huxtable in tastefully patterned sweaters by Perry Ellis and Missoni, but then a Koos Van den Akker sweater debuted in the opening credits of season 3 (1986) and the sweaters became more colourful and featured various textures. Ironically, although the Cosby show fueled the crazy sweater craze, Coogi and Tundra sweaters were never worn by Bill Cosby because they were too busy on film.

With their growing popularity, a special division called ‘Tundra Knitwear’ was created in 1989 to handle production and distribution in the American market, however, despite the sweater’s popularity, Standard Knitting was in trouble due to competition from Asian manufacturers. Kliman and Lowery sold the company in the early 1990s but the new owners could not save the company. Tundra knitwear was closed in 2002 and Standard knitting went into receivership in 2006.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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36 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Tundra sweaters

  1. Karen Hanuschuk says:

    I still have a very colourful Tundra sweater that I bought right from the factory, years ago. They used to have a small store at the factory where you could purchase the sweaters at a discount. Mine no longer fits but I still keep it; the knit it beautiful and interesting…

  2. Karen Hanuschuk says:

    I have checked my sweater and the label says EMME Canada (with an accent over the second E). I did buy it from The Standard Knitting factory in the early to mid-1990s and I believe EMME was the line of women’s tundra sweaters. My now ex-husband bought a Tundra sweater (men’s line) at the same time. I have taken pics of mine if you are still interested. Unfortunately, the care label had been removed at some point (which I do not remember doing!!). I cannot find any info regarding the EMME name but I assure you I did buy it at Standard Knitting and it is every bit as colourful and interesting as the one in your article. Let me know if you would like to see pics and I will email them to you. Thanks.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Karen, I would love to see photos of it. You can send email shots to my at curator@fashionhistorymuseum.com or kickshaw@rogers.com. I remember the Emme label, and I think you are right, it was the women’s line of the same brand.
      Jonathan

      • Wendy says:

        EMME was the tundra women’s line I have an EMME sweater that I bought in 1995, and I still wear it I just got its first hole in the elbow I still wear it at home. I met the people at standard knitting and had a tour in the early 90’s it had a neat feeling about it

        • Jonathan says:

          Thanks for confirming Emme was the woman’s line.

          • Ellen says:

            I remember when they first came out and I thought they were ugly. I wasn’t very impressed.
            Now they are growing on me as I see they were unique in their construction. Even the story behind them is rather interesting.
            How many styles were made? Any items made like hats, bags, or even socks?
            Has anyone does a fb page on them? Lots of questions here.
            I just bought my first one yesterday.

          • Jonathan says:

            I agree with you – I didn’t like them at first either, but they grew on me and I see their beauty better now than then. Not sure if there were accessories made in the same manner…

  3. Effet Rose says:

    Thanks for the historical background! Love my Tundras, texturewise they’re pieces of art.

  4. Emily Bishop says:

    Hello! I just baught one of these at a Thrift Store I am happy that this page helped me learn a bit about it! Its not one of the bright ones but if I sent you pictures could you tell me maybe how old it is?

  5. Marn Cameron says:

    About 35 years ago, my mother bougfht my husband a cream Tundra wool cardigan that had a design knitted in in black and beige and it had a little grey Eskimo hanging from the zipper (I still have the Eskimo). About 18 years ago I bought a boiled wool car coat with hood in red, greyl, black and camel. It has buttons down the front and the sleeves have woolen ties at the wrist. It is a classic and will never go out of style and I love it

    • Jonathan says:

      Isn’t it funny how sweaters are often kept for years and years, unlike most pieces of clothing…

    • Debbie Wilson says:

      I was a designer at Standard Knitting from 1981-1984, just coming out of College , it was my first design job , this was a prosperous time for them . We used yarns from Scandinavia, Italy, Egypt and of course Canada, a major supplier was Spinrite yarn in Listowel , Ontario. Sheila Beaton was in charge of the design room at the time. This was the era that Panache, and Nanook labels were created. Lou Kilman and Hugh Lowery where great people to work for. Our signatiture designs were the Icelandic brushed wool designs.I have kept a few pieces. We used lambskin leather embellishments on some of the classic designs.

  6. Steve says:

    I’ve got a tundra sweater. Blue color. All vurgin wool. It’s got the button on the shoulders like old military style and a cobra on each shoulder in red thread. Never knew its history

  7. Lani Novak says:

    I have a Tundra jacket, all one color, a medium bluegrey. I am trying to find another solid color. I bought mine in Nova Scotia in the 1980s.

  8. Jana G says:

    Awesome! I thrift a lot and love to find info on gorgeous vintage pieces I pick up. Just got a large white/grey/blue Tundra knit sweater/jacket for $6! It’s in incredible condition (despite the frayed lining) Very unique design as well! Thank you for the history 🙂

  9. jak doskow says:

    Hi !
    Thank you for your history of Tundra sweaters !
    i first bought 2 in a good mens clothing store in Bloomington Indiana in the early 2000s, but never saw any more but discovered over the last 2 years on Esty & Ebay & now have 4 more of the wild ones, trying to not buy more than one per year due to space concerns !

  10. I was very sad when the production of TUNDRA SWEATERS ended.I have a large selection of tundras.The only thing I regret is not buying a sweater with a black print.But I have maybe every color Tundra produce. I get many compliments because
    of this.So sad the company stop production.

  11. John Bradfield says:

    I got curious about the Tundra brand since I have 4 of their glorious sweaters; stumbled here after consulting Dr. Google. Thanks for the background; sad to hear they are gone; grateful for my wardrobe!

  12. Chad Sims says:

    Jonathan, thanks again for that history of the company. Worked on a sports licensing program for them in the US. Great factory and really good people. Sad to see them go.

    • Jonathan says:

      I only ever hear good things about this company and their products!

    • Debbie Wilson says:

      What year was that…when I was there, we designed and produced products for Slazenger…Tennis and Golf. This was the beginning of the Panache Label. I was in house from 1981-84

  13. Diane Prinz - Cedarburg, WI says:

    I was very surprised to read that the Tundra brand is no longer produced. I just purchased a gorgeous sweater (Men’s) made of silk, Tencel, & cashmere. I found it at Goodwill for $5.99 and it still had the original tag on it! I could tell it was a quality piece of clothing. The pattern looks like stylized piano keys, in black, camel and 2 shades of grey. My musician boyfriend is thrilled to have a brand new “collectable”.

  14. dick and carolyn hoyne says:

    where in Pennsylvania can I get these sweaters

  15. Teresa Hull says:

    My husband has a Tundra Sport bright royal blue pullover, turtleneck with a drawstring at the bottom. The neck is black. Has two white polar bears on the front. Has a leather tag with an Eskimo on it and says tundra sport. Does anyone know how old this is? I cant find another like it.
    Thanks!

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