The legacy of Roots runs deep. With an affinity for Canadian wilderness and sport, founders Don Green and Michael Budman—both, as many may be surprised to hear, originally from Detroit, Michigan—created their signature brand of leather goods and athletic wear in the 1970s, bursting onto the scene with the Roots Negative Heel Earth Shoe. From its emblematic beaver logo to its now-famous leather bags, ribbed sweatshirts, and ever-recognizable Team Canada Olympic uniforms, Roots has consistently evoked images of classic Canadiana: ice hockey on frozen prairie lakes, canoe excursions, hikes through the Rocky Mountains. With entrepreneurial vigour, Budman and Green have turned what began as one store in Toronto, Ontario, with one employee, into a 200-store operation in four countries.
The duo recently released Roots: 40 Years of Style, a commemorative book loaded with images to celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, and Green reflects on memories from the last four decades captured within its pages. “We wanted the photos to tell the stories. There were tremendous Olympic moments, like when we hit big time in Nagano in 1998, outfitting the Canadian team,” he says. “Then that led us back to Vancouver after the Games, when Prince Charles, and Princes William and Harry visited. We met them at the Pan Pacific Hotel and were able to gift them hats and jackets. It was a very cool moment, and the photo we have is one of the first really happy shots of the family after the tragedy of Princess Diana’s passing.”
He continues, “Then outfitting the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 when we dressed not just Canada, but also the U.S. team in their home territory. They opened the ceremonies with the athletes carrying in the tattered American flag following September 11. Seeing those athletes with ‘Team USA’ on one side of their jackets and the Roots logo on the other—surrounded by the port authority, police, and fire departments—was a dramatic moment.”
It seems everyone has a Roots story, and the business is truly a family affair. “It’s so amazing. Somehow, we haven’t offended any groups—the high school kids, college students, even fashion people, it really is cross-generational,” Green says with a laugh. “Michael and I both met our wives through Roots. Michael’s wife Diane is very involved in architecture and designing leather products. My wife Denyse created Roots Kids and Roots Yoga. They’re amazing women, they’re the real story.”
Green, dressed in one of his favourite styles, the Gretzky jacket, remarks, “You feel young when you wear this; it evokes that high school drive-in feel. I’m a big sweatpants guy. I can’t wait to throw my salt-and-pepper sweatpants on. It’s an attitude: you hang out, you relax, it creates a good state of mind.” That feel-good attitude has permeated the company and been at the forefront of the brand for the last four decades—and if Budman and Green’s tenacity is any indication, the next 40 years too.