Ever wonder where names of things come from? Names like Kleenex have become so ubiquitous that they no longer just represent a brand, they are the name of a thing. Companies often utilize the services of creative agencies and scores of focus groups to land on the perfect, multi-faceted, multi-national name for their company. Or sometimes, entrepreneurs forgo the formal focus groups and simply choose a name that was meaningful to them in some way—perhaps a beloved pet’s name, or the name of the street they grew up on or their favorite drink. Naming happens in odd ways sometimes.

Back in the early days of the company, Bernhard Brenner was working hard building his fledgling knitwear company. He’d had some success—starting to build a reputation for producing only the highest quality goods. He was a man on a mission, and that mission had its foundation in knitting. He was a knitter (and still considers himself one today). And so it seemed that “Mr. Knitter” was a perfect name for a knitwear line.

He even crafted a label. Carefully executed with that sharp, simple 1960’s vibe. You can almost imagine the guys from Mad Men pitching this. Perfect, right? Not exactly.

Mr. Knitter label

Mr. Brenner attended a sales meeting in Dallas with Mr. Stanley Marcus (of Neiman-Marcus). He showed him his handcrafted collection of knits. He shared the information on the quality of the fibers and raw materials that went into each piece. It was impressive. Except for one thing.

“Bernie…I love your product. It’s absolutely great. But your label is not right.” Mr. Brenner recalls Stanley telling him. “Weren’t there a lot of French immigrants who settled in your part of the country? You need a French sounding name like some of the nice rivers in your area. Isn’t there a St. Croix river?”

Mr. Marcus was right—there are many “nice rivers” up here in Minnesota (Mississippi ring a bell?), but the St. Croix River is special. It was an important, hardworking river in the settlement and development of Minnesota. And ironically, the name is French. It means “Holy Cross”. So the “Mr. Knitter” name came off the knitwear labels, and St. Croix was added in its place.

Mr. Brenner was making his American Dream a reality in his adopted country. Naming the knitwear line he was pouring his heart and soul into after a great river in his new home state was indeed meaningful. And for 55 years now, the St. Croix label has come to stand for everything that Mr. Brenner himself stands for: quality, craftsmanship, style, and a commitment to absolute excellence. We still have Mr. Knitter around…but he’s busy working on the business, not just seen on a label.

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