The History of Gildan Wholesale Apparel

The History of Gildan Wholesale Apparel

In the wholesale apparel industry, few brand names are as well known as Gildan Activewear. Gildan has been producing high-quality blank apparel for decades, and it has become an industry leader with a reputation for providing economical shirts and other apparel for men, women and children in a wide range of on-trend styles and colors. The company has been around for decades and with more than 50,000 employees worldwide, it is definitely a heavy hitter in the fast-fashion industry.

Gildan products are sold in more than 50 countries around the world under a multitude of brand names, including Gildan, Anvil, Gold Toe, Comfort Colors, Secret, Powersox, Silks, Kushyfoot and Therapy Plus. The company also recently acquired American Apparel and has licenses with Mossy Oak and Under Armour. Even if you haven’t heard of Gildan, there is a good chance that you have at least one of their products hanging in your closet or tucked away in a dresser drawer.

What started out as a small company in Montreal, Canada, today, Gildan wholesale apparel can be found around the world and the brand is one of the biggest in the entire industry. Let’s look a little bit closer at how this company got started and how it has grown into the massive corporation it is today while remaining an ethical and environmentally responsible company.

The History of Gildan: The Early Days

Gildan was first founded in 1984 by Glenn and Greg Chamandy. The company was born when the duo purchased a knitting mill in Montreal, Canada to produce fabric to supply to the Harley Inc. children’s wear business, which was founded in 1946 by Joseph Chamandy. This company specialized in producing activewear and sleepwear for kids. Gildan quickly branched out into manufacturing and selling 100 percent cotton t-shirts to wholesalers. These wholesalers then re-sold the products to screen printers in Canada and the United States.

Within a decade of purchasing the knitting mill, Harley closed its doors. While, in 1984, the Chamandy family was heavily involved in the manufacture of children’s clothing, it quickly became apparent that Gildan’s output far exceeded the demand for the fabric they were producing. Selling cotton t-shirts to wholesalers proved to be a more lucrative endeavor and, in turn, the company switched gears. Instead of just manufacturing fabric, they started creating the garments themselves. By 1994, Gildan had transformed into the Gildan Activewear brand that we know and love today.

The History of Gildan


In 1997, Gildan opened its first offshore sewing facility. Located in Honduras, this plant employed 1,200 workers and was vertically integrated. Within just a year, the company earned an initial public offering and was publicly listed on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Gildan became the United States’ leading distributor of 100 percent cotton t-shirts by 2001, and the following year, the company opened a new facility in Honduras. Located in the city of Rio Nancy, this facility handles knitting, bleaching, dyeing, cutting and finishing. The company also opened its first large-scale distribution center in Eden, North Carolina in 2001. In 2002, Gildan launched its Biotop system, which treats wastewater using bacteria, gravity and sunlight before returning clean water back to the environment.

A new, fully-integrated knitting, dyeing and cutting facility opened in the Dominican Republic in 2005 to meet growing demand. The company’s proprietary Biotop wastewater treatment system was constructed at this location to minimize the facility’s environmental impact.

T-shirt made in Bangladesh

From there, the company has continued to grow. In 2010, Gildan invested $15 million in a Bangladesh company known as Shahriyar Fabric Industries Limited. It made this move in order to support planned growth in Europe and Asia. In May of 2012, Gildan purchased the Anvil Holdings, Inc. The parent company of Anvil Knitwear, Anvil Holdings is known for producing environmentally friendly, recycled, sustainable and organic clothing for infants, children and adults. The year 2012 was also a big year for Gildan because they sponsored the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, which was played in Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 15, 2012.

In early December 2012, Gildan began talking to the media about running an ad during the 2013 Super Bowl. Part of a $25 million marketing campaign headed by Devito/Verdi, the 30-second advertisement aired during the third quarter.

Over the course of the next several years, Gildan went on to purchase many other well-known brands. In 2014, the company purchased Doris Hosiery for $110 million Canadian. Comfort Colors was purchased in 2015 and added a vintage garment dye collection to the company’s printwear business. In 2016, it acquired PEDS Legwear for a sum of $55 million. Most recently, Gildan purchased American Apparel at auction for $88 million in 2017. While American Apparel has several retail locations, however, they were not included in the deal.

In 2018, Gildan reached the milestone of having 50,000 employees working in 30 facilities spread across seven different countries. The brand continues to play a huge role in the printwear market and is continually working toward being a stronger force in the fashion basics industry.

Gildan’s Strategy

Gildan primarily focuses on mass-producing basic apparel for redecoration. Plain t-shirts in a rainbow of colors are some of their biggest sellers, but the company also offers sweats, underwear and socks under the Gildan brand. Other products are available under other brands owned by Gildan. The company also holds several brand licenses, including New Balance, Mossy Oak and Under Armour.

Group of young people in jeans and colorful t-shirts

While the company’s corporate headquarters are in Canada, there is also a U.S. headquarters and a distribution center located in Charleston, South Carolina. Production facilities are spread throughout Honduras, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Asia. While garments manufactured by Gildan are primary sold in the United States presently, the company is actively working toward increasing its prevalence in Canada, Europe and Latin America.

Many companies in the wholesale apparel industry have opted to have all of their products manufactured in China rather than choosing a decentralized manufacturing strategy. The owners of Gildan, however, have paid close attention to regional and bilateral trade agreements and partnered with factories in areas where it would be able to have products shipped to North America, Australia and Europe duty-free. This strategy has allowed the company to beat the prices of products coming from Chinese manufacturers. Locating manufacturing facilities in Latin America–close to the United States–was also a strategic move that allows Gildan to fulfill orders much faster than the company would be able to if it relied solely on Chinese factories.

Gildan Activewear rose to fame for its affordable 100 percent cotton heavyweight t-shirts. Today, these shirts still serve as the cornerstone of the company’s business, but it now also offers additional on-trend product lines, including Ultra Cotton, DryBlend (which is a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester) and the SoftStyle line, which is made from 100 percent ringspun cotton for incredible softness. The company also manufactures sweatshirts, sweatpants, polos, baseball tees, tank tops, shorts and even stadium blankets. By diversifying its product options while continuing to carry the ones that made it successful, Gildan has solidified its place as a leader in the wholesale fashion industry.

Ethics and Responsibility

Gildan has long been committed to maintaining high ethical standards in its business practices and operations around the world. The company takes ethics and responsibility seriously and has built a strong reputation for maintaining ethical business relationships and behaving in a responsible manner around the world. It credits its success with these principles.

Gildan Ethics

Updated in 2016, Gildan’s Code of Ethics applies to all Gildan employees, officers and directors. It sets the framework for the company’s business practices and operations and acts as a guide that aids employees in making decisions that are in line with the company’s guiding principles and core values. The Code of Ethics includes the company’s Code of Conduct, which encompasses regulations and principles that have been established by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other organizations. It communicates the company’s dedication to always acting sustainably and responsibly.

The Code of Conduct also outlines the employment relationship and states that Gildan and all of its business partners must abide by all legal requirements and adhere to rules that respect workers and protect their rights under international and national labor laws. It requires all facilities and partners to pay their employees the legal minimum wage or the prevailing industry wage–whichever is higher. It forbids child labor and forced labor. Under the Code of Conduct, overtime work cannot be mandatory, and employees cannot be required to work more than 60 hours per week.

group of caring friends in plain shirts

Gildan takes health and safety seriously, and the Code of Conduct mandates that all business partners take measures to ensure safety in the workplace. It forbids discrimination, harassment and abuse and states that employees are permitted to file grievances if their rights are violated.

At Gildan, environmental responsibility is also a primary concern. The company and its partners adopt reasonable measures to reduce their environmental impact. They also are required to comply with national and international environmental protection laws and regulations.

Why Choose Gildan Activewear?

Gildan has been around for just three decades, and in that time, it has become one of the biggest wholesale apparel brands in the world. While many companies rely solely on Chinese manufacturers and do not focus on ethics and responsibility, Gildan demands fair treatment for all of their employees in facilities in the United States, Canada, Latin America and around the world.

If you are looking for wholesale apparel, Gildan offers incredible quality. All of their products are designed and manufactured with durability and style in mind, and while some companies offer just a few designs, Gildan has a full range of trendy options ranging from basic t-shirts and hoodies to fashion-forward V-neck shirts, racerback tank tops, polo shirts and more. The products also come in a full range of colors and sizes, making them perfect for every member of the family.

In addition to its namesake brand, Gildan owns popular brands like American Apparel, Comfort Colors, Anvil, Gold Toe and several others. Under the Gildan parent brand, they are required to abide by the same Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct, so you can feel good about purchasing products from any of these brands.


While Gildan was originally founded to manufacture fabric for the Harley children’s clothing company, the company quickly shifted gears and began using its own fabric to manufacture blank apparel. What started as a small company has grown to be one of the largest names in the fast fashion industry, and while other companies have struggled, Gildan has continued to grow.

At ShirtMax, we are proud to carry a full line of Gildan Activewear products. Whether you are looking for affordable wholesale shirts to decorate in your screen-printing business, you need blank apparel for school projects, or you are just looking for an affordable way to outfit your entire family in stylish clothing, we have the Gildan products you need to get the job done.

Gildan places a lot of emphasis on quality and attention to detail. There are strict guidelines governing the manufacturing process and the company has high quality standards. The company also offers unbeatable pricing on bulk apparel, so it is easy to see why it is the world’s number one blank apparel brand. When you choose Gildan for your printable apparel needs, you can rest assured knowing that you are getting a great product at a great price.

ShirtMax only sells first-quality products and we offer unparalleled value. If you are shopping for wholesale apparel, we have you covered. Browse our selection of Gildan apparel today and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.