15. Stanfield’s

Jon Stanfield was happy to answer, to the infamous question, “boxers or briefs?”, that

“Stanfield’s bestselling item would be briefs, but boxer briefs have certainly grown and are more in vogue.”*

Stanfield’s is a specialist in underwear products and has rightfully earned its reputation as “the Underwear Company” having been a successful Canadian manufacturer for over 150 years.

Their story: Charles E. Stanfield immigrated to Canada in 1855 and in 1856, with his brother-in-law Samuel E. Dawson, founded Tryon Woollen Mills in Tryon, Prince Edward Island. In 1870 Charles moved on to Nova Scotia, where he founded the Truro Woolen Mills. Over the years he continued to expand the company, and established the current textile mill on the south bank of the Salmon River in the Truro, in 1882. He introduced Canadians to heavy rib underwear and the famous “Drop Seat.”

In 1896, Charles sold his business to his two sons, John and Frank Stanfield, who, unlike their father, believed the way to build a reputation was to build a stable product line in one specific field. They chose to specialize in knitted merchandise and renamed the company the Truro Knitting Mills Limited. They developed the famous “Shrink-proof Process” which catapulted the little Truro underwear company to fame; the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 was on and the new Stanfield’s “Unshrinkable” Underwear was pivotal to the would-be-prospectors and miners who could find no substitute for the warm, heavy, woolly underwear.

The first half of the twentieth Century saw continued growth for the company. In 1915 they introduced an adjustable two-piece design which they patented on 7 December 1915. Stanfield’s Limited incorporated in 1906. The late twenties saw the first line of cotton combinations and the use of synthetic rayon was used to produce ladies’ undergarments. Stanfield’s entered the undershirt and brief field in the late thirties and added thermal underwear in the fifties, which gradually took over the winter underwear market, all providing a solid base for the company’s product growth over the many years to follow. The 50s cultural popularization of the T-shirt helped Stanfield’s immensely.

Sidebar: Robert Stanfield, former premier of Nova Scotia and leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, was a third generation Stansfield, (son of Frank, who was son of founder, Charles).

Jon Stanfield replaced his father Tom as the president of Stanfield’s Canada and in doing so, became the fifth generation to head the still Truro, Nova Scotia based, 156-year-old clothing manufacturer. His goal is to build the company and provide an opportunity for the sixth generation to be involved. He realized that organic growth, in the Canadian market, is very challenging. He sited three reasons: retail consolidation, a lack of growth in the apparel sector, and stagnant consumer spending. Under his direction, Stanfield’s, in reaching for the next level, acquired several smaller clothing brands from across North America, to expand Stanfield’s product line to include firefighting apparel, lingerie and winter sports gear, and left under their own names, more known in their fields, for continued success. On the manufacturing side of things, the company has seen a reduction in local textile supplier availability in Nova Scotia.

“The textile industry in Canada is nowhere near as big as it used to be, as a lot of suppliers have either gone offshore or have disappeared,” explains Jon. “With that comes less of a supply base which has caused us to renegotiate our supply chain as a lot of our suppliers now are no longer able to produce from here in Canada. A good portion of our waistbands, for example, used to come from Canada but now these once domestic suppliers have moved their factories.”*

Their biggest obstacle, however, is fighting the power of their competition; the bulk of Stanfield’s products, being made in North America (a small percentage are imported), are competing with US brands, who rely heavily on overseas production, putting Stanfield’s at a cost disadvantage. But Stanfield’s continues to produce the majority of its products in Canada, stating, “as it is not only good for our brand but good for our customer base as well.” Their main challenge with this is to convince customers that being “Made in Canada” for over 156 years, is important, and it’s not all about price all the time. A consumer may pay slightly more for a product at the onset, but it will wear considerably better and people will get more out of their dollars spent. Their basic policy of “the best product at reasonable prices” has kept them buoyant for many years and hopefully, in the long run, Canadians will just keep coming back to Stanfield’s!

You can find them under these brand names:
Stanfield’s,Harvey Woods, Elita, Hanna, Hot Chilly’s, Snow Angel, NST Protektagard FR, Lifeliners FR in Denmark, Iceland, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Norway, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.