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Victoria group campaigns for fair wages for Cowichan sweater knitters

The Victoria Native Friendship Centre has launched Knit, a website where people can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters made by local artists. (knitwithpurpose.com) The Victoria Native Friendship Centre has launched Knit, a website where people can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters made by local artists. (knitwithpurpose.com)
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The knitters of a famous sweater designed on Vancouver Island make roughly $1 an hour, according to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC), which is working to increase the knitters’ earnings. 

The centre is striving to provide a fair wage to the people who make authentic Cowichan sweaters, which come from the Cowichan Tribes.

“They are wholesaling their sweaters for between $90 and $140 a sweater, which turns out to be about $1 an hour for the average knitter,” said VNFC executive director Ron Rice, pointing out the cost of labour and wool.

On Thursday evening, the friendship centre launched Knit, a website where people can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters made by local artists.

The centre buys the sweaters directly from Cowichan knitters for $500 each. They’re being sold for $895.

“We’re looking at using the proceeds to help design a curriculum for the knitters who want to become more entrepreneurial,” Rice said.

The curriculum will explore business planning, distribution and e-commerce.

“We think there will be knitters who want to… take more control over their individual retail sales,” he said.

By supporting local makers, Rice hopes to prevent cultural appropriation. The designs have previously been copied by several major retailers.

“If you can’t ask somebody who the knitter is, odds are it’s a knockoff,” Rice said.

“A lot of the stores who’ve been doing this for a long time have very deep relationships with their knitters and they can tell you which member of the family knit the sweater, which member of the family spun the wool.”

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