After Joe Owen finished his tour of duty in Vietnam, he was working for an American Jeans manufacturer and was in Toronto on business when he met future business partner Richard Brown. In 1975, the two were still in their mid twenties when they started their business Rainbow Jeans in Montreal. Owen handled the creative side while Brown oversaw marketing and sales.
In their first year, they saw sales of $585,000. Three years later they were selling their jeans across the country and in 1980 they sold 824,000 pairs of men’s, women’s, and children’s jeans – about $15 million in sales. The following year they began to expand their product line to include other types of clothing. In 1984 they introduced their jeans brand Steps.
Unfortunately, the rise of designer brand-name jeans in the 1980s was too much competition for the young company, and with the onset of a recession, the company ceased operating in 1990.
BTW – the rainbow motif was not associated with the gay movement when they founded their company in 1975. Rainbow striped elastic suspenders and cloth belts were popular in the late 1970s for rollerskating and disco looks. When the rainbow was first used as a symbol of the gay movement in San Francisco in 1978 the pink triangle was the established motif. However, the pink triangle had negative connotations as it had been appropriated from the Nazis to identify homosexuals, like the yellow star was used for Jews. By 1984, when Rainbow jeans created their ‘Steps’ label, the rainbow symbol was becoming the more popular and positive symbol for the gay movement, which is probably why they created the Steps label so as not to alienate potential customers. Since then, the rainbow has become associated with celebrations, like gay pride parades, but the pink triangle continues to be used as a symbol at more serious gay political events.