Marketing to Canadian Families

by Catherine C. Cole

Great Western Garment quickly established its reputation for high quality men's and boys' workwear, suitable for the rugged life in western Canada. The company's slogan, "They wear longer because they're made stronger," was introduced in 1918 and was featured in advertisements for many years. Farmers, ranchers, miners, lumbermen and construction workers alike wore GWG brands like Cowboy Kings, Iron Man and Red Strap. In the 1950s and 1960s, GWG clothing became popular with men, women and children throughout Canada. In the 1970s, although GWG focused its attention on the growing youth market, for some people the company never overcame its reputation for workwear and, as a result, was unable to compete with designer jeans in the 1980s.

Ski wear advertisement Play clothes advertisement During the Depression, GWG introduced a number of new product lines—more than 700 in total—including women's and children's clothing. But there were very few pages of women's clothing in the GWG catalogues, and these featured women engaged in outdoor activities that required specific clothing, skiing or gardening, for example. Similarly, the boy's clothing was intended for "rugged" play or chores. Work clothing advertisement Advertisement for Strapback and Frontier Queen brands Advertisement for casual and work clothing

Casual Clothing

During World War II, although fabric for producing civilian clothing was rationed, GWG produced tens of thousands of military uniforms under government contracts. The company expanded its capacity to meet wartime demands and, after the War, widened its market by increasing production of women's and children's clothing, producing casual clothing as well as workwear, and increasing distribution and sales throughout Canada.

Advertisement for Frisco Jeans and Frontier Queens brands GWG's sales force grew from two people in 1911 to 35 in 1950. GWG salesmen were persistent; one remarked that "there were towns in Alberta that only God, Stanfield's [underwear] and GWG knew where they were." GWG salesmen kept track of the inventory ordered and sold by its merchants and advised them about what to order. The company introduced a number of brands for women in the 1950s, including Strapback and Frontier Queen. The ads emphasized that the fit and proportions were designed for women.

In the 1940s, GWG used country music singer Stu Davis (who later became Canada's Singing Cowboy), and in the 1950s and 1960s various rodeo champions, to promote their products. In 1958, emerging Hollywood actors Valerie Allen, who appeared in Hot Spell in 1958, and Peter Baldwin, who was working on The Trap at the time, were photographed at Paramount Studios wearing GWGs. Allen's Frontier Queen outfit is described here as "glamorous." No other examples of actors promoting GWGs have been located.

Advertisement for children's school clothing advertisement for leisure wear Advertisement for leisure clothing The marketing of casual clothing grew throughout the 1950s. GWG shifted its advertising from regional publications to national media like Maclean's, The Star Weekly, and National Home Monthly. By 1961, GWG clothing was sold in 5,500 retail outlets across Canada. Children were being advised to wear GWG's to school, and men were shown barbecuing with the guys, not just working.

Advertisement for George W. Groovy brand GWG advertisement GWG introduced new brands like George W. Groovy (and the less remembered Grace W. Groovy) and Peace Jeans in an effort to appeal to the growing youth market. A busker in New York's Greenwich Village wrote the song used in a commercial that can still be sung by many baby boomers today. GWG also introduced the suggestive slogan, "Anything Goes." In 1972, Scrubbies pre-washed jeans were developed, becoming the most successful brand in GWG history.

GWG began publishing its catalogues with French translations of garment descriptions in the late 1960s. When GWG introduced the first national radio and television advertisements for jeans in the early 1970s, the ads were produced in French and English.

Advertisement featuring Wayne Gretzky Gretzky's sweatshirt GWG advertisement The Great Wayne Gretzky (whose nickname shares the initials GWG), was raised in Brantford and briefly worked at the plant as a bundle boy. Gretzky later provided a celebrity endorsement for GWG. The 1980-81 "I grew up in GWGs" campaign included a television advertisement, life-sized cardboard cut-outs in stores, and appearances. After Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles in 1988, GWG compared itself to Gretzky with an ad noting, "The Great One is still in town."


Analysis of the images in GWG catalogues reveals the transition from men's workwear to clothing for the entire family. In the late 1930s, the catalogue pages were dominated by men. There were 21 pages of menswear, compared to four pages each of women's and children's clothing. In 1942, there were 27 pages of menswear, compared to one of women's clothing and four of children's. Similarly, in 1950, there were 38 pages of menswear, six pages of boys clothing (some of which was work clothing), and only two pages of women's clothing. In 1959, GWG made a statement by putting an image of women on the cover of the catalogue, but there was only one other page of women's clothing inside. In 1960, there were eight pages of menswear, and one each of women's, children's and family clothing.

The real change occurred during the 1960s and 1970s with the dominance of youth culture created by the baby boom and the feminist movement. By 1968, the cover featured young people; there were five pages of menswear and an equal number oriented towards youth, with women and family trailing at only one page each. In 1970, youth appeared on the cover and inside pages; there were four pages featuring youth, and three each of women's clothing and menswear. In 1980, the cover featured a couple; inside there were seven pages of youth's clothing and four of menswear. Similarly, in 1981, there were five pages of youth's clothing and only three of menswear.

With the help of effective marketing, GWG was quite successful in winning over the youth market, but in the end, the brand could not compete with designer jeans.

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Advertisement for Nev'R Press pants produced by McConnell-Eastman for GWG. Credit: Library and Archives Canada. (1:01)

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Set to different musical styles, the ads say that people should buy pre-washed Scrubbies and spend their time making music or with their girlfriends rather than scrubbing jeans.

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Set to country music, the ad says that you don't have to wash or scrub them, they already have a worn out look; just wear your GWG jeans, go out and have fun. (1:02)

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Set to the boogie-woogie musical style, the ad says that wearing jeans is cool all right, but you needn't wash and scrub them several times a week. (1:12)

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Set to the doo-wop musical style, the ad says that people should buy prewashed Scrubbies and spend their time with their girlfriends rather than scrubbing jeans. (1:02)

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Learn more about Hall Smith: The Art of the GWG Catalogue