Jantzen – Made in Canada

Jantzen made their name and fortune on swimsuits, but started out as a knitter of sweaters, socks and gloves.  The company was founded in 1910 as the Portland Knitting Company.  Later in the decade someone got the idea to make bathing suits using the machine that knit sweater cuffs.  It produced a knit suit that was ribbed, and thus was a better fitting bathing suit.  By 1918 the company was renamed Jantzen Knitting Mills, and the main product was their famous swimsuits.

This souvenir postcard shows the administration building of Jantzen.  The card is not dated, but the cars are late 1920s models, and according to several sources, this building was constructed in 1929.  The growth of Jantzen must have been amazing, as the back of the cards claims that over 1,750,000 swimming suits were produced annually at the Portland facility.

What is also interesting is that the card mentions that Jantzen was also manufacturing swimsuits abroad.  It was a kind of reverse out-sourcing, where the company produced in other countries not to import to the US, but to sell in that country.  Note that in the 1920s, Jantzen was making swimsuits in Oregon, England, Australia, Canada, and New Jersey.

In 1941 Jantzen returned to the sweater business  as part of their new sportswear line.  My sweater, from the 1940s, was made in Canada for the Canadian market.  It came to me as a gift from Deborah at BigYellowTaxiVintage, which is located in Canada.

Jantzen is still in operation today, but as far as I know all their manufacturing is now out-sourced.  They do make very nice, 1950s vintage inspired suits.

Unlike many companies that were sold and resold over the years, Jantzen has retained a large archive of material, both garments and paper items such as catalogs and advertising.  The archive. located in the 1929 administration building,  is not open to the public, but it is a nice thought knowing that the archivist can reach far back into Jantzen’s history when necessary.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

19 responses to “Jantzen – Made in Canada

  1. S Geiger

    Have always loved Jantzen suits. Wore them as a teen and young woman. I wear No bathing suits now!


  2. Interesting article, Liz. I appeciated reading it.


  3. Lillace Christianson

    Hi, Liz! Thought of you just now when I stopped by the local GW Boutique on my way home. Saw the sweetest Jantzen Classic vest. It was a lightweight woven dark blue with lots of colorful embroidery. Perfect for spring–some years back! Haven’t run across any of the Jantzen suits, though, in quite a long time.


  4. Love the sweater & history of Jantzen – thanks, Lizzie!


  5. My mother-in-law and her sister worked at the Jantzen factory in London during WW II. I will ask her what they made. Anything you would like to ask of a primary source? 🙂
    Thanks for another fascinating article.


  6. Hi Liz,
    I wish you lived near by so you could help research at the American Textile History Museum! You are an asset to all those 20th century companies that never get researched. I went to grad school in Oregon and had the good fortune to tour the Jantzen headquarters on a school trip. It was really interesting to see how they test the materials they use. At that time (yikes, 20 years ago) they didn’t have much of a company archive which is a shame. I was also able to tour the Pendleton Woolen plant in Pendleton, OR. It was pretty tiny so I’m sure they have other ones. Keep up all the good research; I really appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, that is really nice of you to say. I do love to dig around in the past, that’s for sure.

      A lot of companies have “bought back” their past, and Jantzen may be in that category. I know from a past life of eBay selling that many companies were the best costumers for their vintage products and ephemera.


      • I think you are right because I was recently trying to work with Catalina (who has been bought and sold multiple times) and the only items they had they had bought on ebay. Keds also wanted to buy a pair of early sneakers we have in the ATHM collection.


  7. All those swimsuits! I feel like Jantzen is one of those labels I find more frequently than any other. It’s usually sweaters, but I recently found a great deadstock men’s 1930s era wool swimsuit, with the tags and all. It was in perfect condition and seemed completely wearable…were one of a mind to wear a wool swimsuit nowadays!

    Great post, Lizzie. I’d sure like to tour those archives!


  8. tom tuttle from tacoma

    i knew only of a hair salon named jantzen until i came across a pair of vintage shades by jantzen. i cannot imagine a wool swimsuit. intriguing.


  9. Pingback: Jantzen – Made in Canada | The Vintage Tr...

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