Leather has pride of place at Roots. The two are inseparable. Leather is part of our DNA. Itís part of the soul of the company. Original leather goods have been at the heart of Roots since our inception in 1973 when we began by making leather shoes. Itís what first put Roots on the map.

At Roots, we have a soft spot for our leather goods. And not just because of the international acclaim that Roots Genuine Leather products have long attracted. Weíre proud of the products and the way we make them. Weíre proud of the people who design and manufacture them and where it all takes place.

Every Roots Genuine Leather product is made in our state-of-the-art factory in Toronto. Itís operated by the Kowalewski family, well known for three generations of old-world craftsmanship. Originally from Poland and then Argentina before immigrating to Canada, the Kowalewskis are justly famous for their seminal role in the evolution of Roots dating back to our earliest days.

In 1973, when Michael Budman and Don Green were laying the foundation for Roots, they went looking for someone who could make the shoe that would launch the business. They had the good fortune of meeting Jan Kowalewski who had a small family business, Boa Shoe Company, on College Street. Working with leather, especially making shoes, was in his blood. It was part of his family tradition.

The first store opened on August 15, 1973 in Toronto on Yonge Street. The shoes proved an instant hit. Within weeks, Roots was selling hundreds of pairs every day. To keep up with demand, bigger, more modern production facilities were needed. In October 1973, Jan, who worked with his sons, moved Boa Shoe Company to Sorauren Avenue in the cityís High Park area. They increased production of the Roots negative-heel shoes and quickly every square inch of the place was humming with production. For a while, there were even four or five sewers working in Michael and Donís office. By this time, Michael and Don had bought Boa and made it a part of Roots.

The dedication of Jan and his sons Richard, Henry, Karl and Stan and their mastery of leather craftsmanship were key ingredients in the phenomenal success of Roots. The shoes were so successful that within half a year, there was a need yet again to move to larger premises.

In May 1974, Michael, Don, the Kowalewskis, and the rest of the Roots team moved across town to 1203 Caledonia Rd. in northwestern Toronto. Within a few years, the factory was producing not only shoes but also a wide range of leather products including boots, bags, jackets and accessories. At one point, the factory was making 2,000 pairs of shoes a day, and even made Beaver Canoes.

In 1984, the factory moved down the street to its present location at 1162 Caledonia Rd. where today more than 200 people make Roots Genuine Leather products that have contributed so much to the reputation of Roots. Itís a state-of-the-art facility, increasingly unique in Canada where such manufacturing has become a rarity. Under the direction of the Kowalewskis, skilled craftspeople work in teams assigned to different products. Different tasks are rotated from person to person. That means that more than one person checks every product for quality control. The employees get to learn different skills and see the leather goods through the entire process from start to finish. Thereís also an excellent Repair Department that works closely with Roots stores to satisfy customer requests.

In keeping with the Roots heritage and their own time-honoured family tradition, Henry, Karl and Stan Kowalewski continue to work at the factory, as they have been for the past 39 years. True to form, they pursue their passion for leather and oversee design and production of so much of what makes RootsÖ Roots.

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