Stanfield’s, lining your drawers 166 years and counting
Posted on November 18, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments
A staple in underwear drawers across North America, Stanfield’s began right here in Atlantic Canada. With over 150 years of history, the Nova Scotian-based business has grown from a small woolen mill to a leading producer of comfort wear.
It all started when Charles Stanfield and his brother-in-law opened a woolen mill in Tryon, P.E.I. in 1856. After a decade, Charles sold his part of the business and moved to Nova Scotia, where he opened Truro Woolen Mills on Brunswick Street in 1870.
Wanting to grow, Charles purchased other woolen mills in the area before eventually selling those interests and returning to Truro to focus on innovation. He renamed the mill Stanfield Mill and moved it closer to Salmon River on Logan Street in 1882 (where the factory still stands today). From a workshop in his barn, Charles created many products and was the first to bring cardigan jackets, stockinettes, drop-seat underwear and other apparel items to Canada.
In 1896, Charles sold the business to his sons, John and Frank, who felt it needed a specialty. Together they decided to focus on manufacturing and selling knitted products and renamed the mill Truro Knitting Mills Limited.
Innovators themselves, John and Frank developed the product that led to Stanfield’s ultimate success: Shrink-proof woolen underwear. When thousands travelled North in 1897 for the Klondike Gold Rush, the warm, durable and unshrinkable underwear became a hot ticket item. Production of the shrink-proof underwear skyrocketed from two dozen to 500 dozen a day.
In 1906, Stanfield’s Limited was incorporated. As it continued to expand its product line, Stanfield’s also purchased a local woolen mill in Amherst to meet the demand for its products. New materials and methods for processing wool in the 1920s allowed the business to produce its first cotton garments and women’s underwear made from rayon. Over the next three decades, Stanfield’s continued to introduce new products including, undershirts and briefs and claimed the winter market with two-piece underwear and thermal undergarments. It’s believed that Stanfield’s is also responsible for making t-shirts and polo-style pyjamas popular in Canada.
Due to its reputation in the industry, Stanfield’s became known as “the Underwear Company”. However, the business has expanded to include a variety of apparel items. According to a Financial Post article in 2012, Stanfield’s began acquiring small brands across North America to expand its product line to include winter sports apparel, firefighting gear and women’s lingerie. This method of growth has helped Stanfield’s remain competitive in a tough market where many competitors rely on overseas production.
Today, with current President and CEO Jon Stanfield representing the fifth generation, Stanfield’s continues to be a family-led business and is about 550 employees strong. While they’ve expanded beyond underwear, Stanfield’s doesn’t stray too far from tradition as the majority of products continue to be made in Truro, Nova Scotia.
Still, Atlantic Canada made, 166 years later.
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