CANADA GOOSE

The story be­hind the rise of this coun­try’s iconic win­ter coat — and why it never, ever goes on sale,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - DANA FLAVELLE BUSI­NESS RE­PORTER

You see them ev­ery­where: On the sub­way, in hockey are­nas, out­side high schools across Toronto, the fur trimmed parkas with the dis­tinc­tive red, white and blue up­per arm badge that says Canada Goose.

Orig­i­nally cre­ated for re­search sci­en­tists who work in Canada’s Far North, the su­per warm, down-filled parkas are now one of the world’s hottest fash­ion state­ments.

Priced at $500 to $1,000, they sell out so quickly that re­tail­ers are al­ready tak­ing or­ders for next win­ter.

“It’s be­come al­most the uni­form of the in­ner city among 16-to 24-year-olds,” said Randy Har­ris, pres­i­dent of mar­ket re­search firm Tren­dex North Amer­ica. “At the same time, it’s also worn by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who work out­side up North.”

Rugged but fash­ion­able. Equally in de­mand among Hol­ly­wood star­lets and north­ern bush pi­lots. It is the Land Rover of out­er­wear, the Swiss watch of ap­parel, says Dani Reiss, third gen­er­a­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive of the pri­vately held, fam­ily-owned firm.

That was his vi­sion for the com­pany started in 1957 by his grand­fa­ther, Sam Tick, a Pol­ish im­mi­grant, mak­ing jack­ets and woollen shirts for lo­cal shops.

In the 1970s, Tick’s son-in-law, David Reiss (Dani’s fa­ther), joined the busi­ness, turn­ing Metro Sportswear, as he re­named it, into a thriv­ing pri­vate-la­bel man­u­fac­turer, spe­cial­iz­ing in down-filled out­er­wear.

The com­pany cut and sewed for brands such as Ed­die Bauer and L.L. Bean. It also pro­duced its own jacket — the Snow Goose — for rugged work in the Far North.

But by the time Dani was in his 20s, the com­pany, along with the rest of the North Amer­i­can ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, was in deep trou­ble. A ris­ing dol­lar and free trade were driv­ing brands to man­u­fac­ture in cheaper coun­tries in Asia. Metro Sportswear’s cus­tomers were dis­ap­pear­ing faster than the po­lar ice cap. “I got in­volved in ’97 by ac­ci­dent. It wasn’t the in­tended path by me or any­body else. I was go­ing to write. I was an English lit ma­jor,” Reiss says in an in­ter­view at the com­pany’s fac­tory-ware­house-head of­fice in an in­dus­trial area of Toronto. Dressed in jeans and a ca­sual shirt, Reiss goes on to de­scribe how he de­cided to re­build the busi­ness around the one brand the com­pany owned. “It was the best of its kind in the world. Let’s tell peo­ple about it. Let’s try and make more of this stuff. Then we can be the de­ter­miner of our own for­tunes,” Reiss said. At first, it was a tough sell. “I started out show­ing these jack­ets to the kind of stores in Toronto and New York that you now find us in. (Harry Rosen, Holt Ren­frew, Sport­ing Life, Europe Bound.) And the re­sponse was, ‘This is a util­i­tar­ian jacket. Why would any­body buy this?’ ” Reiss re­calls. Weigh­ing nearly eight pounds, the warm­est of the coats, the Snow Mantra, is a thick, boxy parka, filled with pre­mium qual­ity white goose down and cov­ered in use­ful pock­ets, in­clud­ing a plas­tic ID holder, and a spe­cial­ized kid­ney warm­ing pouch. The com­pany had yet to de­velop the lighter more fash­ion-driven cat­e­gories that now pop­u­late its show­room. So, Reiss took the parka to Europe “partly be­cause we had a lit­tle bit of busi­ness there al­ready and I re­ally wanted to travel.” There, he found will­ing lis­ten­ers for his story about the “warm­est jacket on earth.” Made from a se­cret blend of goose and duck down and feath­ers, much of it from Hut­terite farms in West­ern Canada, it was trimmed with coy­ote fur trapped in the Far North. “The Euro­peans got it. The im­agery of Canada is the Great White North, the po­lar bears, the Aurora Bo­re­alis, we all live in igloos. That’s the mythol­ogy. Peo­ple around the world love that mythol­ogy.” The Canada Goose brand was born. The com­pany set about repli­cat­ing that suc­cess in North Amer­ica, ap­peal­ing di­rectly to con­sumers in or­der to cre­ate de­mand re­tail­ers couldn’t ig­nore. To seed the mar­ket, it be­gan out­fit­ting the bounc­ers at night­clubs and ticket scalpers out­side the Air

The Euro­peans got it. The im­agery of Canada is . . . we all live in igloos. . . . Peo­ple around the world love that mythol­ogy

DANI REISS,

CEO CANADA GOOSE

Canada Cen­tre. Af­ter years of out­fit­ting film crews in re­mote lo­ca­tions, Hol­ly­wood be­gan us­ing Canada Goose jack­ets on cam­era.

“We try to be very tac­ti­cal,” adds Kevin Spreek­meester, Canada Goose’s vice-pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and a for­mer Arc­tic pho­tog­ra­pher.

The com­pany also sup­ports the Inuit, send­ing scrap ma­te­ri­als to Pond In­let where sew­ers make their own parkas, and works with Po­lar Bears In­ter­na­tional to pre­serve the Arc­tic en­vi­ron­ment, Spreek­meester notes.

But Reiss’s most im­por­tant, and po­ten­tially risky, de­ci­sion was to con­tinue man­u­fac­tur­ing in Canada even as scores of ap­parel mak­ers were shut­ting down.

While em­ploy­ment in the in­dus­try plunged to 35,000 last year, a third of its peak a decade ear­lier, Canada Goose was hir­ing.

It now em­ploys 600 peo­ple across Canada in its own and con­tract fac­to­ries. The orig­i­nal plant in Toronto, as well as the new one in Win­nipeg, is union­ized.

On the fac­tory floor at Castle­field Ave. and Cale­do­nia Rd., two men op­er­ate the down fill­ing ma­chines Reiss’ fa­ther in­vented. Cut­ters slice through stacks of fab­ric us­ing in­house pat­terns. Rows of women sit at sewing ma­chines stitching to­gether the pieces.

Wage rates range from $12 to $21 an hour, ac­cord­ing to Work­ers United, the union that rep­re­sents them. “So, when you buy a Canada Goose jacket you’re not only pay­ing for a beau­ti­ful prod­uct but you’re con­tribut­ing to de­cent pay­ing jobs,” said the union’s Cana­dian di­rec­tor Alexandra Dagg.

Canada Goose is one of a new breed of Cana­dian ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ers that own and con­trol their own brand, a move that is help­ing make the in­dus­try stronger, said Bob Kirke, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Ap­parel Fed­er­a­tion.

He lists yoga pant maker Lu­l­ule­mon and moun­tain gear maker Arc’teryx in the same breath as Canada Goose. And while some still man­u­fac­ture off­shore, em­ploy­ment in the Cana­dian in­dus­try is show­ing signs of re­cov­ery, Kirke said.

“Canada Goose is the most suc­cess­ful of the “we make it here” com­pa­nies,” Kirke says

To­day, Canada Goose makes more than 100 styles of jack­ets, pants and vests, us­ing four dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of down and feath­ers.

The com­pany’s sales grew 80 per cent last year, says Reiss, to “un­der $100 mil­lion.” About half is fash­ion­driven, he says. Canada is its largest mar­ket, fol­lowed by the U.S., Europe, and Asia, es­pe­cially Ja­pan.

In a sign it has reached near iconic sta­tus, one of the com­pany’s big­gest headaches is now coun­ter­feit­ers. “We had to hire an on­line brand pro­tec­tion ser­vice to do daily sweeps of the In­ter­net,” Spreek­meester says.

Fake parkas are not just bad for the brand, but for the wearer, he says, not­ing poor qual­ity down and feath­ers may con­tain bac­te­ria and mildew. Knock-offs may have been made in off­shore fac­to­ries that em­ploy child labour. And the pro­ceeds of coun­ter­feit­ing of­ten go to sup­port or­ga­nized crime, he says. Not to men­tion the jack­ets just aren’t as warm as the real thing.

How can you tell a fake from the real thing? That’s easy.

“If it’s on sale, it’s not a Canada Goose,” says Spreek­meester.

One of the world’s warm­est, most pop­u­lar parkas never goes on sale. It doesn’t have to.

TANNIS TOOHEY/TORONTO STAR

Rok­sana Cieplowska, 22, poses in her Canada Goose parka — fash­ion must-have for the 16-to-24 crowd.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

Is­abel DeSousa works in the fin­ish­ing sec­tion of Canada Goose’s Toronto fac­tory. The work­ers are all union mem­bers.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

Dani Reiss, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Canada Goose, helped re­build the fam­ily busi­ness by fo­cus­ing on its spe­cial­ized parkas sell­ing the brand over­seas.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

Canada Goose em­ploys about 600 work­ers across Canada. It has two fac­to­ries, in­clud­ing this Toronto one at Castle­field Ave. and Cale­do­nia Rd.

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