BEIJING — The year is off to a great start for Bojana Sentaler, the Canadian designer known for making vibrantly colored and feminine alpaca wool coats. In January, Meghan Markle was spotted wearing one of the brand’s red designs in the duchess’ first official outing of the year, creating another globally watched fashion moment for the line that’s become favored by young British royals and Canada’s First Lady Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
Looking back on the last decade, Sentaler can pinpoint the Sophie, Kate and Meghan effect for propelling the business to new heights. First in 2015, Trudeau helped introduce the label to a national audience when she wore it to her husband’s swearing-in ceremony, and with Kate Middleton and Markle, Sentaler’s international profile has leapt and leapt again.
“It’s hard to say which duchess had a larger effect,” Sentaler said. “The Kate coat was back-ordered four times, and for Meghan it was something similar.”
Although the company turns 10 this year, Sentaler explained “it’s really been in the last four to five years that business has picked up” with “dramatic growth.” This year, the focus is opening up new markets, namely China via Lane Crawford.
“Our goal is to grow globally and I would want Sentaler to be available in every fashion city,” the designer said. “We ship to every country, but it’s always nice for customers to physically try on the coats and see them in person.”
Does the reach of Markle and Middleton extend to China?
“I think so,” Sentaler said. “The Chinese customer loves classic silhouettes and the royals are known to wear classic styles, so I think they have an appreciation for their style.”
Bright colors, for which Sentaler is known, may help it do well in the China market. In fact, it’s something that has proven to have universal appeal. Back in 2009 when the brand debuted, the coat landscape was dominated by neutrals — camel, black gray, navy — and Sentaler’s feminine and more fashionable take, along with its ribbed cuffs, became its signature. With every collection, the brand chooses one shade to focus on. Last year, it was lilac, and this year, the color, fittingly for an emphasis on China, is a scarlet red.
Outside of Canada, the U.S. is the largest market and the U.K. is not far behind.
“We ship all over the world to the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Asia,” Sentaler said. “I actually lived in Dubai. It’s funny when it drops to 15 degrees Celsius everybody takes out their coats.
“I’m really hoping that China will be right up there,” she added.
Sentaler said the brand hasn’t noticed any impact from cooling political tensions between Canada and China in recent months, which reportedly caused trouble for a fellow coat brand, Canada Goose, delaying the opening of that brand’s Beijing store.
The company’s use of fur has not been contentious either, Sentaler assured, despite the fur debate growing over the past year and more brands choosing to ditch it. Sentaler proudly uses fur of the cruelty-free variety, she said, detailing that the alpacas are sheared every two to three years and other fur comes from animals that have died of natural causes.
The fur is mainly used for smaller accents, a collar or cuff, the brand added, and most are removable for any client who is uncomfortable with fur, while also making it more convenient for fabric care.