The story of Steve Jobs' sweater is coming unraveled.
After a run on the style of black mock turtleneck sweaters Steve Jobs allegedly bought from Winona-based Knitcraft Corp., the garments are back-ordered until early November.
But criticism of the textile company is rolling in. Some are claiming the company made up the story about the Apple CEO being a customer in order to juice sales of its St. Croix mock turtlenecks.
The company responded this week that it never claimed Jobs was a customer, and wouldn't have any way to know because it deals only with retailers, not consumers. Knitcraft blamed the media for reprinting unsubstantiated Internet claims that Jobs wore its St. Croix brand sweaters.
"We have never been in touch with Jobs," Mary Bergin, a Knitcraft vice president, said in an interview Thursday. "We, like everyone, have seen on the Internet for years that he wore our product. But we don't know who said it."
In an e-mail, Bergin provided links to Internet stories dating back to 2006 that claimed, without attribution, that Jobs wore St. Croix turtlenecks.
In another development, the American Cancer Society has asked a Knitcraft retailer, the St. Croix Shop, to remove the society's name from a promotion tying sales of $175 Steve Jobs-like sweaters to $20 donations to cancer research, Bergin said. The society had not pre-approved the use of its name with the promotion, she said.
Jobs, the iconic CEO of Apple, died last week of complications from pancreatic cancer.
On Tuesday, the Smoking Gun website accused Knitcraft and its retailers of "profiting off a phony connection to Steve Jobs and his trademark turtleneck." The website cites an excerpt from a Jobs biography, to be published Oct. 24, in which Jobs reportedly said he bought his sweaters from a designer in Japan. The excerpt doesn't say whether he bought Japanese sweaters exclusively.
The excerpt appears on the gossip news site Gawker (see tinyurl.com/6xet9aj). The biography's publisher, Simon & Schuster, could not be reached to confirm the excerpt's authenticity.
The dispute might stop there if not for some interviews given by Bergin and Knitcraft founder Bernhard Brenner that may have given the impression that Jobs was a Knitcraft customer.
After an interview with Brenner on Oct. 6, the New York Post reported: "'The man made quite an impact, even outside of computers,' said St. Croix founder Bernhard Brenner, 72, who sold Jobs about 12 of the shirts a year."
Brenner was misquoted, Bergin said. "Brenner's statement to the reporter from the Post did not imply that Knitcraft had any sales directly to Mr. Jobs. What was stated is that Mr. Brenner 'would estimate he could have purchased a dozen a year.'"
Similarly, after an interview with the company, the Winona Daily News reported: "'He has always been upfront that he likes wearing our product,' said Mary Bergin, vice president of Knitcraft. Jobs purchased a few dozen turtlenecks every year for the past 15 years, she said."
Bergin said that was also a misquote. What she said was "several reporting agencies indicate that Steve Jobs has been upfront that he likes wearing our product." The claim that Jobs purchased a few dozen turtlenecks a year for the past 15 years "is from another source," although Bergin said she did tell the reporter that "we have been making that style for more than 15 years."
To comply with the American Cancer Society's request, the St. Croix Shop website, which features photos of Jobs and a model wearing apparently identical black sweaters, has reworded its message to say it will make a $20 donation for each $175 Jobs-like sweater sold through Oct. 16 "to the ongoing fight against cancer" rather than to the American Cancer Society.
The American Cancer Society, based in Atlanta, confirmed that it had asked St. Croix Shop to remove the society's name because the name was used without permission.
"We're grateful to anybody ... willing to help support the fight against cancer," said Kathi Di Nicola, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society in Mendota Heights. "But this kind of 'cause marketing' is regulated by the individual states, and we have to make certain everything is done appropriately. And that takes time."
Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553