To celebrate the opening week of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics we’re looking back into the Selvedge archives for all things sport. The skill and determination that has resulted in today’s high tech equipment evolved over hundreds of years - indeed sport has come a long way since Carl Jantzen knit his first swimsuit in 1920. Read on for an excerpt of our article Making a splash from Issue 47 Sporting, where Katherine Calvert explores the evolution of the iconic brand and its distinctive 'Diving Girl' logo. Alternatively, read the full article here.
When the Portland Knitting Company was founded in cool and rainy Oregon in 1910, Carl Jantzen and John and Roy Zehntbauer knew there was a ready market for the heavy wool gloves as well as socks and jerseys they produced. But more than a hundred years later it’s the Jantzen swimming suits that have made the company’s reputation. Their trademark Diving Girl is the symbol of a sport revolution, as well as fun in the summer sun.
The three entrepreneurs established the company with a few knitting machines above their shop in downtown Portland, their first sale a pair of garden gloves. In 1913, a member of the Portland Rowing Club came to them in search of something to wear that would give him freedom of movement, warmth and protection from the drizzly weather. The partners designed an all-in-one garment that could be produced on their sweater cuff machine, knit of virgin wool. Even its weight wet – a hefty 4 kilos (8lbs) – was no impediment.
By 1915 they had developed lighter one piece bathing suits for both sexes, a radical fashion when most went into the water swathed in endless layers of fabric – with, on many American beaches, morality monitors to ensure not much was on show but an elbow. Their new catalogue offered women’s suits accessorised with a cape, a cap, and stockings, for those who wanted a cover up. The suits were popular from the first, catching the growing sense of freedom and fashion, as well as a new appetite for ‘leisure-time’. The new swimming suit was known simply as a “Jantzen.”
Excerpt from Making a Splash: Jantzen's classic diving girl, from Issue 47 Sporting, written by Katherine Calvert.