They are more than just mittens.
Not often does a winter clothing accessory become part of a national culture. Toques, jackets and scarves are all standard pieces for the Canadian winter warrior. Mittens are usually the last to be put on, and as everyone knows, they are critical to keep from freezing.
But what happens when a pair of mittens becomes more than just a way to defend against sub-zero air? “We thought we had created something awesome but we weren’t really sure how awesome it was going to be,” reflects Julie Magner, VP of Brand Management for HBC.
In 2009 the Hudson’s Bay Company began producing a red mitten to support Canadian Olympic team athletes. And today, the iconic Canadian retailer launched its fifth edition.
THE START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL
The original mittens were entirely red with the Olympic rings and ‘Vancouver 2010’ on the outside and a maple leaf on each palm. In the excitement before and during Vancouver 2010 the red mittens blew up. Canadians cleared HBC shelves and the red mitten became a household item.
DID YOU KNOW? By the end of Vancouver 2010 more than 3 million pairs of red mittens were sold.
Hudson’s Bay Company donates $3.33 from each pair of mittens sold to Canadian Olympic athletes. By the end of Vancouver 2010 more than 3 million pairs were sold and with the price set at a reasonable $10, the Canadian Olympic Foundation received significantly more than $9 million that year.
According to HBC, the red mitten program has raised over $22 million since the beginning.
NOT JUST ANY PAIR OF MITTENS
For many Canadians, owning a pair of red mittens has become a trend but wearing them is a statement.
As Toronto university student Alex Romanov thoughtfully puts it, “They’re a symbol of Canada, they show who we are, supporting our Olympians.”
The interesting part is the reason Canadians buy or give mittens can be different for each individual. The words tied to mittens range from ‘gold’ and ‘pride’ to ‘cozy’ or ‘family’. They are as personal as our relationships with the winter season: often different but always sentimental … and always Canadian.
A COLLECTOR’S ITEM
After the success of the first iteration, HBC decided to make the mittens a regular issue. “We decided that we wanted to turn these into collector’s items,” says Magner.
Every year since 2009 a new version has been designed, each with a new twist. There was a re-designed version later in 2010 with a large maple leaf wrapped around each hand. In 2011, HBC introduced the rustic maple leaf emblazoned with ‘Canada’ on the outside and ‘2012’ on the palm for the London Games.
There was even a candy cane striped version last year. The mittens for Sochi 2014 were influenced by HBC’s traditional scarlet point blanket, introducing a black cuff and white fingertips, but keeping it classic with ‘CAN’ on the outside and a white maple leaf on the palm. They are also available from infant to adult sizes for the first time.
Magner explains the thinking behind ‘CAN’ stitched onto the outside has a very specific, double meaning: “We saw this as a great opportunity to inspire and motivate not only our athletes but all Canadians because we ‘can’ make it to the podium,” she says.
And inspiration also has a face. “The Red Mitten initiative represents a concrete way for Canadians to show their interest in, and support for, our Olympic athletes. It is a simple way to help make Olympic dreams come true,” said Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau.
With Sochi 2014 exactly 150 days away, HBC has given Canadians another reason to support homegrown athletes with a design intended to be a part of brand new Olympic stories. The new mittens are now available at Hudson’s Bay and Home Outfitter locations as well as TheBay.com.