150 PLUS / 45 / 1914 GALT KNITTING COMPANY: TIGER BRAND

Without a doubt, one of those great Canadian-family-owned-company stories.

Adam Warnock was born in 1828 near Glasgow, Scotland. The family came to Canada in 1833. In 1835, they settled in Galt, Ontario. Adam met and married Stephanie Hespeler.

In 1881 Warnock partnered with seven other men to form the Galt Knitting Company. The ownership syndicate took over a water-powered mill on the east side of the Grand River. The trademark Tiger Brand was acquired from a Quebec firm in the year the company was founded. They primarily manufactured mens underwear. Adam Warnock was the President for almost 20 years, until he died, in 1902.

Charles and James Warnock, Adams two sons, took over what was at the time a fairly large company, however by the 1930’s it was staggering. They reorganized. During the Second World War, the company became a supplier of underwear to the armed forces. After the war Galt Knitting had difficulty adapting its products to changing times.

In 1954, under Edward Warnock, third generation, the firm slipped into voluntary liquidation.

4th-generation Jim, Edwards son, had joined the family business right out of high school. He salvaged three knitting machines from the liquidation, along with seven sewing machines and the jobs of seven employees. The now renamed Tiger Brand Knitting shed its reliance on winter underwear and became a major T-shirt maker. With the rise of blue jeans in the 1960s and 1970s, T-shirts had become part of the everyday youth uniform. When that business came under heavy import pressure, Jim diversified into fashion outerwear, including woven goods and knits.

Tiger Brand was now an integrated garment manufacturer making its clothes out of its own fabrics. It had both its own branded business and production contracts with major US retailers such as Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Cotton Ginny and the Gap. At its peak Tiger Brand employed 1,450 people and generated about $80-million in annual sales.

In 1978 daughter Joan (Fisk),5th-generation, became President of Tiger Brand Knitting Company Ltd. Whether due to a rumoured “measure of internal instability”, or, the advent of countries like China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Central America emerging as the new garment-making capitals of the world, Tiger Brand began to weaken. The import deluge ultimately pushed Tiger Brand into bankruptcy protection.

The Warnock family, after 5 generations of ownership, sold Tiger Brand in 2005. The company’s brands and various other assets were bought by a new entity, controlled by New York interests, with the good being manufactured offshore.

I have found a current listing for a “sales agent” in Canada, but their number is out of service…is it the end of this labels saga, or could there be a dramatic comeback?

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