North Star

IN CONVERSATION: Adrian Aitcheson and Pablo Mozo

Founded in Batawa, Ontario in late 1940′s NORTH STAR was an iconic Canadian footwear brand. Throughout 70′-80′s the brand helped define the emerging sportswear trends and grew an immense following, in and outside of Canada, selling millions of pairs. Unfortunately, after the hit years and with the emergence of sportswear giants, its factories closed doors.

Fast-forward 20 years. Designer Adrian Aitcheson, and creative director Pablo Mozo banded together to resuscitate and rejuvenate the iconic brand of their childhood.

Today, NORTH STAR is back on the map, driven by their desire to re-awaken the distinctly Canadian identity associated with it.

PULP: How did the idea to bring NORTH STAR come about?

Adrian Aitcheson: I was on a trip in NY when I realized that I didn’t want to work in NY, I wanted to work in Canada and I wanted to work with classic Canadian brands. This was back in 2003. I began to think about brands that didn’t exist anymore but which I thought could work in today’s market. I thought about North Star, and I thought about a couple other brands. I knew someone who was working at Athlete’s World at the time, which is owned by Bata, and which also owns North Star, and I approached him to put me through to the legal team there. I tried to make contact – didn’t happen. So, I put it on a shelf and went on with my life. Then in 2007, I got a job working for Athlete’s World so I approached them again. I was right there so I could make it happen. We were all good, and about to launch and then Athlete’s World got sold and the deal fell apart and it got shut down again. Then, in 2009, I got in touch with Bata about their trademarks in North America and they were interested at that point in the possibility of licensing NORTH STAR. I brought the idea to Pablo, we baked it and we went to Bata and got the license. That was 2009, and its been on ever since.

Pablo Mozo: And now we’re millioinaires ( laughs)

PULP: In terms of bringing back a brand that “died” two decades ago, what was your vision in bringing back such an iconic brand? After all, it is a different atmosphere in Canada and world-wide when it comes to sportswear.

PM: I think theres two things that went on with Adrian and myself. We both had worked in New York but we wanted to make something happen in Canada.  We are proud to be Canadian and we believe in Canada. We have memories of being young and growing up in this country. Both of us agreed that there seemed to be a big opportunity for authentic Canadian brands to come back and there is nothing more authentic than a brand that had actually existed. So before we even started working on the Olympics apparel together we had a shared passion for things that are Canadiana as they were blowing up on the international scene. Canadaiana was huge everywhere except for in Canada it seemed, yet I really belived that Candaians are dying to be proud of being Canadian. When you have conversations about North Star shoes, or Cougar boots, or whatever brands from the childhood memories people get really excited and proud to have had the experience. We wanted to use that as the jump-off, but then bring it into the now and into the future and not just rely on some kind of retro-wear .

PULP: It is a really great idea to bring back an icon and remind people of where it comes from and then re-invent. Many would be discouraged.

PM Well you know, when you live next to the biggest exporter of pop-culture in the world it is easy to get kinda drowned-out. But I know there is an underlying thing where people are very proud to be Canadian.

PULP: That’s why with a brand like NORTH STAR, there is a huge backing for it. It is, as you mentioned, a part of our past and reminds of the fact that there was, and can be once more, a time where Canadian brands have a great deal of relevance.

PMNORTH STAR has a big history. They used to have factories in Batawa, Ontario and everything used to be made here in Canada. Canadians worked there and it was owned by Canadians and they were creating something that was recognized and had an impact in and outside of Canada.

AA: Which is a thing that a lot of Canadians forget. When there’s a local brand which is really, really good people don’t think its Canadian. They think it has got to be bigger than that. But when you have a great Canadian product and you go to the U.S. it is a different story. The uniqueness of it not being from the U.S. is very appealing to them. And it is the same thing in Europe and in Japan for example. Our challenge is to be authentic, to be Canadian, but not in a corny way. To be modern Canadian inspired by the past.

PULP: Well that’s what it reads like – distinctly Canadian. But isn’t there that cliché though where talented people are convinced to go elsewhere because there is no way they can make it here? And that’s not necessarily true.

AA: Well they want it to be true. So we have to change that.

PM: Exactly.

PULP: Over the past few years there seems to have been a lot of changes in Canada. Perhaps because there is a change in mentality with a new generation of creative thinkers starting to emerge and question the perceptions they have been taught. New ideas come with the new generation.

AA: And we definitely want to be a part of that wave. I think there IS a Canadian identity. We are not trying to create it, we are just trying to showcase it and be proud of it. And if we’re doing a good job it will be passed on to other Canadians.

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