Can Canada Goose Come In From the Cold?
Standing on a street corner in a northern U.S. city last winter, chances are you saw a blazing red, blue, and white patch on the shoulders of passersby that read Canada Goose Arctic Program.
For 59 years, Canada Goose sold almost nothing but cold-weather gear, carving out a reputation as the world's warmest coat maker. Once a rugged, heavy-duty item worn by workers or adventurers braving the worst climates Earth can muster, the company in recent years discovered droves of urban customers seeking utilitarian, yet chic, outfits for when the mercury plummets. Their adoption triggered unprecedented growth for the profitable label, quadrupling sales over the past five years and sending revenue past $300 million in 2015.
Given its domination of the polar vortex, shoppers could be forgiven double takes when they perused store racks this spring. These Canada Goose jackets look nothing like the parkas and bombers worn by scientists on Antarctica, roughnecks in the North Sea, or, for that matter, Kate Upton. This gear isn't packed with duck down, there's no coyote fur trim on the hoods, and it's certainly not equipped with kidney warmers to fight off bone-chilling cold.
These styles, a trio of lightweight waterproof shell jackets and a separate collaboration with rapper Drake's label October's Very Own, are meant for warmer times, the mild spring and summer months when the Canada Goose logo is rarely seen on city streets. In short, they're meant to protect you from rain and wind—not sleet and snow.
Urban consumers are also the target of another Canada Goose expansion project: retail stores. This year the company is opening two stores, in Toronto and New York, to court its new fans. Dani Reiss, Canada Goose's chief executive officer since 2001, said he'll "definitely" open more Canada Goose outposts in busy cities, though he doesn't envision a fleet of hundreds of shops.
Reiss has tried this seasonal expansion before. None of the attempts, which go back 10 to 12 years according to Reiss, were successful enough to warrant keeping the products around. This time, he hopes the red-hot Canada Goose name will push shoppers into buying.
"It's one of the hardest things to do for a brand—to make counter-seasonal products," said Reiss, 42. "We make the warmest jackets. As we become a company that's known to more and more people around the world, and not at the South Pole, they want stuff that has the same functionality, but built for them."
It's a key initiative for Canada Goose, as Reiss doesn't want to be pigeonholed into selling nothing but superwarm coats for eternity. He must count on low temperatures each year to keep sales churning. With expansion on his mind, diversifying through the seasons was the next logical step.
"Their credibility is in outerwear," said Jaqui Lividini, CEO of brand strategy consultancy Lividini & Co. Canada Goose should be able to push protection against all the elements, she said. "They just happen to specialize in snow wear."
Many cold weather companies have attempted to stretch into spring and summer, with varying degrees of success. Ski jacket maker Moncler SpA is working to win the warmer months with apparel and accessories. Ugg Australia, seller of comfy shearling booties, is so famous for its footwear that executives worried it was doomed to be forever known for one product. The company has pushed into all kinds of items now, from sandals to handbags, in an effort to become less tethered to winter.
The question for Canada Goose is whether it can be known as more than a winter label. Reiss is trying to convince shoppers that his brand is about tech—proprietary fabrics and performance features. Indeed, that's how the products are marketed. One lightweight anorak, for instance, touts a "laminated microporous 2.5 layer fabric" called Bi-Durance.5 and a water-resistant YKK Vislon zipper.
Next spring, expect Canada Goose to release even more spring styles—windwear, rainwear, ultra-lightweight items. For now, though, the York, Ont.-based company will stay an outerwear maker, and there are no current plans to get into ready-to-wear apparel, said Reiss.
"You'll see other things that are more diverse than just rain," said Reiss. "You're going to see more products suited for urban environments."