The fashion world, and the investors who covet its brands and businesses, are finally realizing that Canadians are especially well-suited to be good at making cold-weather garments. Not only does the frigid weather in the Great White North demand warm coats, when the manufacturers who make those coats move abroad, they are finding the country of origin confirms a certain authenticity.
“People want products that work. They want to support real brands with authentic stories and heritage,” said Dani Reiss, president and chief executive officer of Canada Goose Inc., which went public in March and now has market capitalization of $2.3 billion.
“Making our jackets in Canada is a competitive advantage,” Reiss asserted. “In many ways, it’s like a Swiss watch. You say the word ‘Swiss’ before the word ‘watch’ because the place of manufacturing the product is as important as the product itself. For the past 60 years, we’ve designed and manufactured products that are made for the coldest places on Earth — in Canada, where we know cold — that resonates with consumers, and function never goes out of style.”
Canada Goose’s revenues grew 38.8 percent to 403.8 million Canadian dollars last year, with a big boost from international sales. In the U.S., where the company has only 16 percent brand awareness, its revenues have grown at a 52 percent compound annual growth rate over the past three years.
The success of Canada Goose has helped wake up the market to other outerwear brands from the North. In the Montreal outerwear scene, InterLuxe recently took a stake in Mackage and Champlain Financial Corp. invested in Kanuk in 2015.
Kanuk president and chief operating officer Richard Laniel credited the Canada Goose IPO for putting the potential into sharp focus.
“They were the first ones to really go worldwide and kind of paved the way, opening up the market,” Laniel said.
Kanuk has been making outerwear for more than 45 years and manufactures everything in Montreal, selling through wholesale accounts in Canada as well as Europe and Russia. The U.S. will have to wait a little longer.
“Right now, the U.S. market is extremely saturated,” Laniel said. “Goose is pushing extremely hard.”
Kanuk uses thin down, which is made in Italy, and comes in rolls and is cut to fit its jackets. “The benefit is that you get about 150 to 200 percent warmer product because they’re no cold spots,” Laniel said.
The brand is staunchly Canadian made.
“We can find capacity in Canada,” he said. “We just have to slow grow it in such a way that we can keep our DNA. We’re very firm on the fact that we want to deliver a quality Canadian product. Right now, it’s not in the cards or the plans to look at alternative manufacturing solutions outside of Canada. It’s just a DNA call. Canadian outerwear is Canadian outerwear.”
That’s the purist view. There are also plenty of Canadian brands designed at home and produced abroad.
“This is kind of a dying art here, manufacturing, people don’t get out of school saying, ‘I want to be a sewer,’” said Elisa Dahan, creative director and cofounder of Mackage, which produces its goods in China. “They have the most recent machines, the most recent technology. We can’t take that away from them. That’s the reality.”
But Mackage does test all of its styles in Canada.
“Everyone at our office is allowed to borrow any jacket,” she said. “Being able to live in the real minus-35 degree weather really helps us assess quality. That teaches us more than any laboratory can teach us.”
While keeping one warm is the price of entry in the Canadian outerwear market, Mackage has also been focusing on style appropriate to everyday living.
“It’s wonderful to be kept warm, but to be kept warm in real life,” Dahan said. “At the end of the day, my life is not about going out in the Alps, it’s about going around in the city. The first thought is always that we make you look good and fashionable and on trend and then make sure that we put in all the technical components.”
The brand uses a multilayer construction of breathable, waterproof fabrics to fend of the elements. It also produces a wide range of styles, including lightweight down jackets, trenches, light wool coats, rainwear and leather and suede looks.
Dahan said the country’s 150th anniversary is drawing attention to the company’s diversity.
“A lot of people are doing big things,” she said. “It’s a great moment to celebrate Canada. I think we’re able to prove that Canada can do a lot of amazing things today.”
The country’s style image has also been lifted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and First Lady Sophie Trudeau, who has been seen repeatedly in seen in the Canadian brands, including luxury outerwear brand Sentaler, which was founded in 2009 by Bojana Sentaler.
“The Trudeaus brought back a spotlight to Canadian fashion,” Sentaler said. “They were featured in many major magazines that were really telling the world that Canadians do know their fashion and the First Lady is an example.”
Sentaler uses alpaca fabrics to make fashionable looks with feminine cuts and lots of color that also keep the away the cold.
“Eight months out of the year we have cold weather so coats are a big deal for us,” she said. “Function and fashion are a big deal.”
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