Local Music Spotlight
“All I remember,” recalls Jury guitarist George Johns, “is girls were screaming and pushing us into tables of jeans which were falling over.”
In 1964, Winnipeg teens jumped to the beat of British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll. As the excitement spread from the community club dances, many businesses sought to tap into that teen market. The most aggressive of the local merchants to connect with teens through music was Monarch Wear, founded in the 1920s by Harry Steinberg, making work wear for Canadians. By the 1950s, Monarch Wear was located at 136 Market Avenue at Rorie in the old Marshall Wells building.
The 1960s was the dawn of jeans designed with teenage boys and girls’ body shape in mind; fashionable, slim-legged jeans. Monarch Wear set their sights on serving that market by developing a quality brand of jeans at a reasonable price (around $5.00) that appealed to fashion-conscious teens. Harvard-education vice-president of marketing, Ivan Berkowitz, was tasked with promoting a teen-targeted clothing line. Berkowitz would become the man behind Tee*Jays jeans.
“The main attraction was that Tee*Jays jeans were always wrinkle free and stayed neat looking,” noted Berkowitz. “You didn’t even have to press them.” To get the word out, Berkowitz took a bold new approach. Knowing that teens didn’t read newspapers but were instead glued to their transistor radios, Monarch Wear cultivated the radio connection. “We bypassed the usual advertising mediums,” Berkowitz explained. “Advertising of teen clothing on radio was almost unheard of, so we started buying radio spots.” They also hosted Tee*Jays Dance Party events, the first in the summer of 1964 featuring Chad Allan & the Expressions outside the Simpson Sears store at Polo Park. Another such event followed, this time with The Jury and hosted by CKY’s Gary Todd and Dean Scott. “All I remember,” recalls Jury guitarist George Johns, “is girls were screaming and pushing us into tables of jeans which were falling over.”
In November, 1965, Monarch Wear launched the MW Tee*Jays Cavalcade of Stars show promoting their line of teen clothing with a series of concerts beginning at Winnipeg’s Civic Auditorium before moving on to Portage la Prairie and Brandon. Featured performers included The Deverons, Jury, Shondels, Satan & the D-Men, and folk duo Jack & Jill, all fitted out in Tee*Jays, along with the MW Tee*Jays dancers.
CKY radio personality Jimmy Darin was brought onboard to ad lib 15, 30 and then 45 second radio spots, no scripts. Deejays were major celebrities back then. Recalls Darin, “What we started was a snowball that became an avalanche. Tee*Jays became a fad. We created a fad. You had to wear Tee*Jays, or you weren’t cool.”
According to The Bay’s Jeff Black. “We put them on the shelves, and I’ve never seen a product sell so quickly. It was a phenomenon. It absolutely took off. I don’t think the company was even prepared initially for how big the demand was so quickly.”
In 1966, a trademark snafu forced Monarch Wear to change the jeans brand to Tee*Kays, using the radio slogan “Jay is out; Kay is in.” “That became a slogan the kids liked,” noted Berkowitz. Once again, the company hosted teen events with local bands and deejays. CBC singer, St. Boniface-born Lucille Emond, barely 16 years old at the time, was hired as Miss Tee*Kay to go around to community club dances modeling the company’s new outfits. Monarch Wear even released an album, Music To Wear Tee*Kays By, manufactured by Columbia Records Special Products. The promotional push and clever slogan worked, with Tee*Kays eclipsing its predecessor in both popularity and sales.
Monarch Wear found markets as far away as Japan for their jeans, while in the US, the fledgling Target chain embraced Tee*Kays with significant orders. The brand continued into the 1970s but by the middle of the decade, increased competition from American jean companies on the Canadian market along with difficulty getting acceptable indigo denim from Canadian textile makers, forced Monarch Wear to sell out to HIS jeans in 1976. “We lost our uniqueness,” claims Berkowitz.