WEATHER ALERT

Winnipeg-based Mondetta relaunching famous flag-fronted sweatshirts

Canadians often boast of having ancestors who came from elsewhere.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/09/2018 (1608 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canadians often boast of having ancestors who came from elsewhere.

Now Mondetta Clothing will let you put those bragging rights on your shirt.

Winnipeg-based Mondetta is relaunching its famous flag-fronted sweatshirts — it stopped manufacturing them in 2000 — but with a twist. Your home flag goes on front, as in Canada, while a patch of the flag of your ancestors goes on the arm.

Mondetta was started 32 years ago when 16-year-old Ash Modha started printing business cards and making T-shirts for the university crowd. (Photos by Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hard to get more Canadian than that. Or more topical, with the controversy surrounding immigration and refugees, particularly in the United States.

“You can have a Canadian flag on the front and my nephews, for example, have the flag of Uganda on the sleeve,” said Ash Modha, Mondetta CEO and founder.

“So many people have asked us to bring back the shirts and we think this is the right way to do it, but do it differently,” Modha said.

Mondetta’s newest fashion statement will be on display this weekend at New York Fashion Week, a prestigious event when international fashion designs are shown to buyers, the media and the general public.

This will be Mondetta’s fourth time presenting at the event. To do something different, it will have a pop-up display inside a coffee shop in the New York district of SoHo.

To help publicize its immigration-themed shirts, Mondetta has signed up a Saturday appearance by Ndaba Mandela, activist and grandson of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader. It was also hoping to bring in Daily Show host Trevor Noah.

Mondetta was started 32 years ago when 16-year-old Modha started printing business cards and making T-shirts for the university crowd. Next, his brother Prashant, along with friend Raj Bahl, who were both 18, added their talents.

It was originally called Dimension 100, then became Mondetta in 1987 when they started selling T-shirts from a pushcart on the beach. Modha got the idea for flags when he saw the German flag on a vehicle’s front bumper where the license plate goes.

“The whole thing took off in the late 80s and early 90s. We had a big run for many years.”

The new sweatshirts have your home flag on the front, as in Canada, while a patch of the flag of your ancestors goes on the arm.

It has “recalibrated” several times since then, including opening a line of active wear under its MPG brand (Mondetta Performance Gear) in 2002. In 2015, it took on U.S. private equity firm Webster Capital, based in Waltham, Mass., with the long-term goal of boosting sales to $250 million. Mondetta sales have climbed past the $100 million mark thanks to rapid growth in recent years.

Mondetta and MPG employ more than 100 people locally, and have a supply chain in 42 different countries, as well as an office in Shanghai and showrooms in the U.S.

Modha attributes demand for its flag sweatshirts to two things. One, a nostalgia for the 1990s has emerged. “What’s happening is these old retro brands, like Champion and Tommy Hilfiger, are now cool,” he said.

But the second factor is the rise of nationalism, especially in the United States, against refugees and immigrants. The flag shirts, with the flag patches on the sleeve, are a riposte to the controversy over immigration, indicating many of us started somewhere else.

“It’s showing awareness to these events that we believe are important,” said Modha.

Ndaba Mandela should help open up discussions. “People come for coffee and the flags provoke dialogue,” Modha said.

It also strikes close to home for Modha, who is of East Indian descent. His parents moved the family to Uganda to manage a sugar plantation. The Hindu Indians were expelled under dictator Idi Amin with only the clothes on their backs. Canada, under then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, took in 10,000 of the refugees, including Modha’s family. He was four years old at the time.

Modha sees the parallel with Canada’s willingness to accept large numbers of Syrian refugees.

"Fashion is something that should provoke dialogue. It shouldn't be just milquetoast. We believe the flag sweatshirts do that," Modha said.

So Mondetta doesn’t mind a little controversy with its clothes.

“Fashion is something that should provoke dialogue. It shouldn’t be just milquetoast. We believe the flag sweatshirts do that,” Modha said.

The Mondetta name comes from the global village concept and means “small world.”

Local retailers Below The Belt and Boathouse are carrying the new Mondetta collection. It’s also available online.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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