French Merchants





The origins of the fisherman’s sweater are to be found in Brittany. It is from there that merchants left during during the 18th century to travel to England for the sale of their onions. These merchants wore an item of clothing that made them recognizable from a distance. The French expression "marchand d’ail" (garlic merchant), which is what these people were called, became in everyday speech "chandail" referring to this item of clothing. Knitwear, which until then had been made from wool cloth, was made in a very tight stitching, using a secret stitch which granted to clothing warmth, water proofing, and considerable resistance to both the wind and cold. The real Fisherman’s sweater was a long garment, very close fitting, designed to protect a sailor’s back and keep the body warm. Highly practical, very easy to put on as a result of buttons on the side, and in unwashed sheep wool. Several variants appeared: colors like red, white, striped, but it should be remembered that, in the Navy, the single colored sweater was reserved for officers, and the striped variety for sailors. In the French Navy, young recruits wear a striped tee-shirt during their three month onboard training period.


Originally reserved for professional purposes, the Fisherman’s sweater has now become, like jeans, a 20th century fashionable clothing item. Rooted in a common heritage, this mythical sweater is worn by both fishermen or weekend sailors, at sea, and in town. It is a real symbol of escape to distant horizons. For many centuries Saint-James, a commune in Lower Normandy, located 20 kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel, was a major place for wool production due to the sheep of the north Contentin and Mont Saint-Michel areas. The Legallais family started to spin and dye locally produced wool. This was then resold as skeins and balls of wool to the haberdasheries of Brittany and Normandy, later as underwear: real woolen shirts which gave birth to the fisherman's sweater. It was the Mayor of Saint-James, Léon LEGALLAIS, who transformed a workshop into a real industry.

In 1950, Saint James gave up the traditional activity to concentrate on the manufacture of cardigans, sweaters, including the famous "Real Breton Fisherman's Sweater" knitted in pure wool. Today, its pure wool, pure cotton, "seashore" lines attract a large clientele on the coast, but also in the major cities of France, and throughout the world. See our selection of Saint James products here.


In January 2005, Tricots SAINT JAMES received the Trophy for "Ethics and Governance" given out by the business school EDC, and sponsored by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin for the successful transfer power and capital to the employees, as well as the significant development of the company in France and abroad.


Welcome, bienvenue to our website! Since 2004, French Merchants has offered products from France made with the time-honored techniques and traditions of their respective regions. Each are made with a quality and standard set sometimes hundreds of years ago, in designs that have stood the test of time and ones given a contemporary edge by their current guardians. Take a moment to read each of their stories. We are always adding new finds, so visit us often. May they bring beaucoup de plasir!