When the phone rings at Canada Goose, they never know who will be waiting on the other end of the line. Sometimes it's a professional dogsledder. Today, it's a Hollywood starlet.
Emma Watson's people have called the Toronto-based maker of heavy-duty, goose-down filled parkas with an urgent request. The 19-year-old British actress (who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies) has been coveting one of the company's distinctively Canadian jackets. It has to be blue, and it has to be a specific cut.
No problem. A few years back, when Canada Goose began to receive calls from stars and dignitaries expressing an interest in its arctic attire, the company designated a person at its Toronto headquarters to cater to them exclusively.
It was a watershed moment for a 64-year-old company that had built its reputation outfitting polar expeditions, oil riggers and police departments throughout the world-people far less concerned with how their clothing looks than whether or not it might save their lives. The outerwear manufacturer had long boasted that it made the warmest jacket on the planet (an untested claim); now Canada Goose was actively embracing the idea that its jackets might also be the most stylish on the planet. The question is, how long would it last?
Depending on who you ask, Canada Goose jackets have been credited as the breakout trend in the world's fashion capitals for the past seven or eight years. In that time, the highly-technical survival apparel has been migrating from the shelves of outdoor apparel stores to the racks of high-end clothing retailers like Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew in Canada, Harrods in London and Colette in Paris-places more often associated with designer labels like Comme des Garçons and Dior Homme. In tandem, stylish urbanites have been showing up on the streets of the fashion capitals clad in the parkas with the circular red, white and blue "Arctic Program" patch. Today it's not uncommon to walk into a bar or café and see a half-dozen of the coyote-fur hoods draped over the backs of chairs. It's no accident. The rise of Canada Goose is the result of one of the savviest campaigns in marketing history.
At a modest plant in an industrial neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada Goose churns out 250,000 parkas a year-a rarity in the textile industry, where much of the actual construction of garments is often completed half a world away. An in-house fashion designer cuts the fabric, and dozens of seamstresses assemble the various pieces-sleeves, shoulders, backpanels-in a brightly lit room the size of a gymnasium. Canada Goose has been manufacturing its outerwear this way since 1946; some of the staff have been with the company for more than 30 years.
In an adjacent room, two men operate the machines that blow the company's namesake down into the unfinished recesses of the parkas. From the beginning, the company aspired to make its name synonymous with quality, especially the quality of its goose down, sourced from Hutterite farmers in rural communities across Canada.
Hutterite farmers eschew mass production, preferring to keep smaller flocks and allow the geese to mature before being plucked. This means the down itself is larger, creating more pockets in which warm air is trapped. It also means Hutterite down is more expensive, which is why few jacket makers are keen to use it.
By the time Dani Reiss, grandson of company founder Sam Tick, took over the company in 2001, Canada Goose had already earned its reputation as one of the world's foremost suppliers of arctic gear. The jackets were standard issue for participants in the United States Antarctic Program and the company's assertion that its parkas could withstand -70 C temperatures was enough to sell tens of thousands of parkas a year. Reiss, just 28 when he took the top job, believed he could take the brand further and set his sights on making an aggressive move into the fashion market.
As a way of making average weekend warriors familiar with the brand, Reiss started giving away jackets to anyone who worked outside: bouncers at nightclubs who could give the brand credibility with young adults, and even ticket scalpers, who could raise awareness with the sports-going crowd. "It was very much consumer-driven marketing and guerrilla marketing, no ad campaigns," Reiss says. "We would go to people who worked outside who were very visible. People look at what these people wear because they are the coldest guys out there."