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P.K. Subban pauses for touch-ups during his photoshoot for RW&Co.’s new campaign in Montreal, July 23, 2015.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Modelling is hard.

Just ask P.K. Subban. "Not a lot of people can do it. Not everybody's comfortable being in front of a camera and having someone tell you to look certain ways, and change position. … And there are people that are comfortable with it, but the camera doesn't seem too friendly to them," the Montreal Canadiens defenceman says with a chuckle. "We've been lucky that the feedback has been positive about how the pictures have come out."

Mr. Subban was speaking Thursday from the set of a new campaign for RW & Co., a clothing chain owned by Reitmans (Canada) Ltd..

The campaign, which will launch on Sept. 14, is much more than just a new face for the RW & Co. brand. It also signals a new business strategy for the chain as it seeks to compete in a tumultuous retail landscape.

The stores have sold both men's and women's clothing since launching in 1999, but until recently, men have not been the primary focus of its marketing.

That changed in late 2013, when RW & Co. partnered with Canadian actor Hayden Christensen to design a line of mostly casual men's clothes.

"It was a bit of a wake-up," said Rita McAdam, vice-president of marketing and visual presentation for RW & Co. "It was the first really integrated campaign we'd done of that nature, and to that extent. And we started seeing a lift in our men's business as a result."

More recently, RW & Co. has turned its attention to office wear. In April, it launched a digital campaign to advertise its suits. The new campaign continues that focus. (Unlike the Hayden Christensen line, Mr. Subban was not involved in design.)

Before these campaigns , RW & Co.'s sales of women's clothing outnumbered men's by about three to one. It's now closer to two to one, Ms. McAdam said, and the gap is narrowing further.

That reflects a larger trend in Canadian retail.

Work wear – either fully tailored suits or office casual clothing – accounts for roughly half of the $24-billion apparel market in Canada, according to research firm The NPD Group Canada. Women's clothes are the biggest slice of that pie, with $8.3-billion in sales in the 12 months that ended in May, while men's work wear sales were worth $4-billion.

But all the growth in work wear came from men: In that same period, men's sales grew by 4.8 per cent, while women's declined by 2.6 per cent.

Retailers have responded to this opportunity, but it has mostly been among higher-end brands, said Sandy Silva, director of client development for NPD's fashion apparel and prestige beauty division.

"We see the luxury category really starting to grow in Canada, with the entrance of Nordstrom, and Saks on its way; and the uptick in the likes of Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew; the Bay increasing its upper echelon of offerings," Ms. Silva said.

"On the other side, we see that there's something of a void in the mid-priced fashion landscape. With all the stores that have been closing down – Mexx, Jacob, even Smart Set [another Reitmans brand] – this is an opportunity to focus on work wear, and the suits as a value option for the younger professional."

Companies such as Indochino have attempted to fill that void by offering made-to-measure suits at lower prices for customers who are willing to take their own measurements and wait for delivery. But as retailers operating at a mid-level price point have shut their doors, there are fewer options for customers wanting to buy off the rack.

"The aspirational brands may be out of reach for the average consumer," Ms. Silva said. "… The time is now for those mid-tier retailers to own something, similar to what RW is attempting to do."

Mr. Subban brings a considerable amount of work that he has done building his personal brand. His high profile has helped him to sign partnerships with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., PepsiCo Inc.-owned sports drink Gatorade, and Unilever PLC's Degree deodorant. With every one of those partners, Mr. Subban has used his considerable social media reach – with nearly one million followers on Twitter and Instagram combined – to promote them. He is planning to do the same with RW & Co.

"The majority of marketing now, especially with athletes and celebrities, is coming through social media," he said. "… I think a lot of athletes are missing the boat if they don't take advantage of that free marketing."

The campaign will be online-focused, with behind-the scenes videos from the shoot, pre-roll video on YouTube, and ads placed on sports websites. The company approached Mr. Subban because hockey players have such natural appeal for Canadian men, and because when they are not playing, they are often seen wearing suits.

"There's the uniform on the ice, and then there's the uniform off the ice," Ms. McAdam said. " … We want to capture not only the aspirational element, with their success, but also that sense of fun, ambience, and the whole boys-being-boys."

To do that, the campaign includes four Subban boys: P.K., brothers Jordan, who recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, and Malcolm, who plays with Montreal rivals Boston Bruins; and their father, Karl. The marketing team is taking inspiration from photo shoots found in men's magazines such as GQ.

"A lot of guys out there who are fans of myself or my brothers or athletes in general, you're role models for them, so if they see that you look good and carry yourself well, maybe they'll jump on board. So this partnership with RW & Co., it just makes so much sense," Mr. Subban said.

And where did he buy that first suit?

"Oh, I don't remember. That would've been when I was 15. I think I got it at the Bay or something like that," he said, then quickly corrected the record. "It might have been RW & Co., actually, where I got it."

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