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Cowichan knitters inspire million-dollar sweater business

The Story


In the hundred years since the Cowichan people of Vancouver Island learned to card and spin wool, their traditional, serviceable and warm sweaters have become popular with Canadians and tourists alike. So popular, in fact, that Cowichan knitters can't keep up with demand and imitators have stepped in to meet it. In 1980, CBC's The Fifth Estate examines how makers of poor-quality copies are creating lucrative businesses through the appropriation of the designs, thereby robbing the women of the Cowichan reserve of income.

Broadcast Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: May 21, 1980
Reporter: Ian Parker
Guests: Sarah Modeste, Frances Hill, Brian Donnelly, Peter Kalpakian

Did You know?


• On April 20, 1982, the Globe and Mail reported on Sarah Modeste’s business, called Modeste Indian Sweaters and Crafts Ltd. At that time, the sweaters were selling in local stores for between $100 and $160, with $65 to $85 going to the knitter. She had begun selling the sweaters under a federal program in 1972, and when she couldn’t keep up with demand, bought sweaters from other knitters, making only 25 cents per sweater herself, but building up the business. In 1978 they purchased the carding machine, so they could keep up with demand for the lanolin-rich wool.


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