Montreal-Based Denim Brand Parasuco Marks 50 Years: Feature Interview/Photo Retrospective


Share post:

Legendary Montreal-based designer and businessman Salvatore Parasuco — best known for inventing stretch denim — is celebrating 50 years of creating the first commercial jeans laundry in Canada.

Pre-washing denim is an idea that “inspired the whole world,” said Parasuco, 69.

It’s “an industry that didn’t exist.”

The company will officially mark 47 years in the fashion industry in October.

Image: Former Parasuco Location in Montreal

Making jeans is a very complicated process, Parasuco said, noting there are roughly 40 steps involved.

It’s a skill he honed as a young Italian immigrant.

Parasuco’s family home became “the first jeans laundry because when I was calling laundries to see if they would wash my jeans they all laughed at me and threw me out,” he said.

Being “stubborn and driven, and my parents were — we were on welfare at the time — so I said ‘hey, let’s wash jeans at home and I pay you.’” 

The rate: 35 cents a pair “and we didn’t have a dryer,” he said.

“We lived in a tough area, so my parents had to stand guard all day under there watching the clothesline, and in the wintertime we had to wash and hang them indoors and sleep under them.”

Image: Salvatore Parasuco circa 1972

Parasuco was three-years-old when he arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, settling in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Mercier district, a predominantly French area.

“My parents have third-grade education from the farms and my father was in World War Two, was a vet,” he said.

“So all they knew is ‘where do we get the next meal’?” 

One of six Sicilian children, he started working at age 10 due to his father’s poor health.

Parasuco was 14 when he began washing floors in a store.

Image: 19-year old Salvatore Parasuco in Italy

“I talked them into giving me a chance at becoming a sales clerk and eventually manager,” said Parasuco.

He ended up providing for the entire family by selling jeans out of his high school locker.

The brand was called Le Baron and they were $5.99 retail, said Parasuco.

A teacher and principal had to be convinced to let him support his family financially.

He said he told them he could peddle jeans or “do like the other guys, start selling drugs. I don’t want to sell drugs.”

Image: Salvatore Parasuco circa 1995

They gave him permission to turn his locker into a store “and it was good,” he said.

“Some weeks I was making more money than the teachers.”

Parasuco graduated high school and decided he was going to be a doctor.

But a summer holiday in Italy visiting his grandparents and relatives changed the trajectory.

Parasuco returned to Montreal, opening his first store, “PourLesDeux”, when he was 19 “and then I had to figure out a reason—it’s easy to open but then how do you grow? How do you do business?” 

“I needed a way to attract business and that’s why and how I tried my idea of pre washing jeans.”

In 1975 his label was born: Santana Jeans, known for acid-washed, sandblasted, black over-dyed and stretch denim. 

It was rebranded as Parasuco Jeans in 1988 after buying out his two partners.

“We barely finished high school … so we weren’t highly educated and we didn’t know that you have to register the brand in every country,” he said.

Parasuco said he had booked a show in New York only to find out the name Santana was taken stateside.

Image: Parasuco

“So my staff convinced me to use my family name, which was, I was a little bit shy of because they laughed at me in school with that name,” he said.

He did the show in New York and things took off in the U.S.

“So I had to run both brands simultaneously because Santana was very popular in Canada,” said Parasuco.

Five or six years later, “I put everything into Parasuco.” 

Santana is still alive and has been a private label brand for Costco for the past 20 years.

Backstreet Boys (Image: Parasuco)
Celine Dion (Image: Parasuco)

Parasuco Retail Inc. filed for bankruptcy back in 2015, closing seven stores while continuing to sell merchandise online.

“We decided to give up our 7 stores in 2015 to focus online, wholesale and private label. Unfortunately, to break the leases required, the ‘Parasuco Retail’ division was bankrupted as per our legal advisors,” he shared.

“The retail was only like 30 per cent of our business at that time, the stores,” said Parasuco, adding it had “nothing to do with wholesale.”

He also has a private label business “where we sell our services.”

Parasuco said he’s been focusing on growing the 70 per cent but brick and mortar is still important.

“I’ve gotta be with the right people,” Parasuco said, adding if an “experienced retailer with the infrastructure approaches me and wants to do a co-op with me, we’ll do it.”

Image: Parasuco

The company has remained innovative and agile, adding face masks, bomber jackets, ball caps, and toques in addition to denim.

“Because of COVID, I got into making tracksuits and more knits and more joggers and stuff like that and it took off,” Parasuco said.

Kids’ tracksuits have been introduced, banking on nostalgia.

Speaking of which, a mural celebrating Parasuco’s parents, Antonio and Gaetana, his siblings and the company’s early days was unveiled in downtown Montreal on June 2.

Image: Salvatore Parasuco Mural

It’s at the corner of Crescent and Sainte-Catherine Streets, where the flagship store used to be.

A sneak peak of the high-end outerwear collection, SP (his initials), will be on display.

Parasuco said he’s still working 80-hours a week and will be launching the SP line in January at Pitti Uomo in Italy.

“It’s an exciting time right now in our company,” he said.

Image: Salvatore Parasuco
Kelly Roche
Kelly Roche
Kelly Roche is a freelance multimedia journalist and educator who finds and tells great stories. Her daily news background includes reporting and videography at CTV News and Sun Media. She’s been producing impactful content for nearly 20 years; recent publishers include the Toronto Star and CBC. Visit to collaborate with her.


  1. hi there, peter golding from england invented the first stretch denim from my understanding. in 1978? def sal did not invent them. check your facts before writing.

  2. I used to buy Santana from Sal and his brother for HBC…in the mid ’80’s. Time does fly. Great article about a great entrepreneur, family and brand. A trip down memory lane for me. Thank you for writing it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

More From The Author



Subscribe to the Newsletter


* indicates required

Related articles

Iconic Flo’s Diner in Toronto’s Yorkville Forced to Close After 33 Years Amid Landlord Dispute 

Retail Insider interviewed Flo’s co-owner who discusses the “heart wrenching” situation where he is being forced to close his business that began on Bellair Street in 1991.

Anatomy of a Leader: Teresa Spinelli, Owner of Alberta-Based Italian Centre Shop Ltd.

Spinelli discusses her leadership of the popular retailer which has expanded over the years, describing how she struggled to run the company at first and grew to love it.

Upscale Canadian Fashion Brand SMYTHE Expands with New Standalone Calgary Store [Interview/Photos]

It's the second store location for the Toronto-based brand, which is seeing success with its exclusive womenswear collections.

Toronto’s CF Sherway Gardens Hits Sales Milestone with Exciting Retail Growth and Future Plans [Interview]

The shopping centre is adding new retailers as sales per square foot hit an all-time high, with plans to re-tenant Nordstorm as foot traffic grows following Eataly's opening in the mall a few months ago.

ECS Coffee Opens Canada’s Largest Coffee and Espresso Equipment Gear Showroom and Retail Space in Toronto [Interview]

The new Etobicoke location is unique to Canada if not North America, according to its founder, with coffee roasting, equipment showroom, over 500 varieties of coffee, Youtube studio and various in-store experiences. He has plans to expand the concept nationally.

New Loblaws City Market Opens in Vancouver’s ‘The Post’ Building, Adding Grocery Competition to the Downtown Core [Podcast]

Craig and Lee discuss the opening of a new Loblaws City Market in downtown Vancouver's renovated Post building, and they explore its potential impact on local grocery shopping.

Loblaw Announces $2 Billion Investment in Canada for 2024 with Dozens of New Stores and 7,500 New Jobs [Expert Comment]

The retail behemoth will be growing substantially this year, following backlash over profits as inflation continues to impact Canadians.

Dubai-Based Asian Street Food Concept ‘Wok Boyz’ Expands into Canada with Plans for Multiple Locations [Interview]

The company's founder says the popular concept, with personalized meals, has an opportunity to grow substantially with its high-quality ingredients and theatrical flare, complete with fiery customer-facing woks.

Calgary Surge Basketball Team Launches Innovative Pop-Up at CF Chinook Centre to Boost Community Engagement [Interview]

The retail activation, which opened this month, is resulting in heavier foot traffic in a quieter part of the mall.

Upscale Pusateri’s Fine Foods to Close Yorkville Grocery Store in Toronto After 20 Years

The 5,500 square foot store opened to much fanfare in 2003, with valet parking, private chefs and pricey goods. 

Loblaw and Walmart Could be Forced to Adhere to Grocery Code of Conduct with Legislation [Op-Ed]

Sylvain Charlebois says that it's rare for all of Canada's political parties to agree, signalling a shift that could force grocers to comply amid record inflation.

Factory Direct to Shut All 14 Stores Amid Bankruptcy, Liquidation to Begin Saturday

The company, founded in 1995, is one of Canada’s largest privately owned discount retailers which struggled with declining sales and increasing costs following the pandemic.