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October 18, 2017
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Canada Goose president and CEO, Dani Reiss. Source: centurion-magazine.com.

It's hard to imagine a recent winter where countless couples weren't walking hand-in-gloved-hand, wearing matching Canada Goose jackets. But before Dani Reiss - grandson of founder Sam Tick - took the helm as president and CEO of the company in 2001, Metro Sportswear (as it was called back at its inception in 1957) was a little-known niche manufacturer of outerwear worn mainly by individuals in seriously cold climates, such as northern Canada and Antarctica.

These days, Canada Goose is the go-to brand for stylish, functional parkas - not just in Canada, but across the world, counting Drake and Emma Watson among its famous fans. The Genteel spoke with Reiss about how he spun the Canada Goose's heritage into gold - and where he plans to take the brand from here.

Dani Reiss Canada Goose
Nicki Minaj with Drake, wearing 
OVO x Canada Goose Chilliwack Jacket.
Source: Upscalehype.com.

Charlotte Herrold: Did you grow up knowing that you would go into the family business or did you ever have different career aspirations?

Dani Reiss: This was the last business I thought I'd be in. I studied English Literature and Philosophy in university and had planned to write short stories. I just couldn't imagine getting excited about being in the parka business. My parents didn't want it for me either. So when they agreed to me working here [Canada Goose] for a summer to earn some travelling money, we all thought it would be a very short stint. 

After attending a tradeshow in Friedrichshafen, Germany, that changed. What I saw there was a passion and a hunger from Europeans for an authentic, best-in-quality brand of Canadian-made outerwear. Europeans not only made a quick and logical connection between outerwear designed for warmth and the Canadian climate, but [also] had a sense of respect for the quality products. Then we saw the same thing happen in Canada: they [Canadians] understood how unique and amazing our products were and demand grew quickly. That was extremely exciting to me and fuelled my passion for the business. 

CH: How does your background in English Literature relate to what you're doing now?

DR: Although on the surface it sounds a world apart from what I'm doing now, there is a strong thread that ties the two: storytelling. Everybody talks about brands, but I think it's about stories. Canada Goose has a real, authentic story behind the product. 

Also, I think the fact that I didn't get an MBA or study finance at university has played a huge role in where the company is today. Ten years ago, if we had talked to big consulting or finance firms, they would have told us we absolutely had to move our manufacturing offshore to stay in business. But we're a creative company with a unique perspective - that different way of looking at things has been a big part of our success. Had I had an MBA at the time, I surely would have moved the business overseas. 

You can't be a luxury brand without the history and the heritage. And we wouldn't be the success story we are today if we hadn't stuck to making our products on Canadian soil.

CH: Why is it important to you to manufacture the coats locally? 

DR: Being made in Canada is everything to Canada Goose. It wasn't easy, but in making that decision and commitment, we became successful. People now recognise us as "Made in Canada" champions and they appreciate that. You can't be a luxury brand without the history and the heritage. And we wouldn't be the success story we are today if we hadn't stuck to making our products on Canadian soil. 

CH: Canada Goose has experienced an explosive surge in popularity over the last several years. Do you worry that in the current trend-driven market this popularity might suddenly end? Do you have any plans to ensure the brand's continued longevity? 

DR: We think about it now just as much as we did ten years ago. Only the paranoid survive, right? Understandably so, we need to be concerned, but it's not something out of our control. There are models out there of successful brands that have been successful for decades. Sure, the stakes are higher today as we're a bigger company and brand, but we've got lots of runway and we know where we're headed next. Consumers today want a real brand with inherent meaning and heritage - not just a label slapped on a product. That's what we're focused on and what has driven our success around the world.

CH: Have you made any important or significant changes to the business since you stepped in as CEO? 

DR: I think there are two key things that have been significant to the success and growth of Canada Goose. The first is telling the story of our company and our brand. When I first came on board, we were mostly manufacturing private label products - nobody outside of northern Canada or Antarctica had really heard of us. But anyone who had worn our jackets knew how amazing they were. That's when I came up with our tagline: "Ask anyone who knows." I constantly hear amazing stories from people who wear our jackets about how they've saved their lives, or enabled them to do things they couldn't do before. I knew we had something special and that by sharing those stories in a meaningful way, demand for our product would grow - and it did. 

The other big decision was to keep our product made in Canada. We've created jobs, become a champion for local manufacturing and built the largest apparel manufacturing infrastructure in Canada. 

Canada Goose Dani Reiss factory
"Our jackets are built to be used in 
the coldest places on earth where skin  
around the face can freeze in an instant." 
Photograph courtesy of Canada Goose.

CH: A few grassroots campaigns have popped up in the last year claiming that Canada Goose uses inhumane methods of trapping coyotes for the fur trim on its coats - leg-hold, Conibear and snare traps that leave animals injured and struggling to escape for days. What is your response to these claims? Have you made any changes to the methods in which you harvest the fur for your jackets? Why continue to use real fur at all? 

DR: Functionality is paramount to Canada Goose and our use of fur is strictly for function - not fashion. Our jackets are built to be used in the coldest places on earth where skin around the face can freeze in an instant. Using a fur trim around the jacket hood, which we've done for more than half a century, works to disrupt airflow and create "turbulent" warmer air around the face, protecting it from frostbite. Some people suggest we should use faux fur instead, but faux fur is only a fashion statement; it won't protect skin from freezing. 

The capture of fur-bearing animals in Canada is strictly regulated by the provincial and territorial government wildlife departments, and Canada Goose adheres to all industry guidelines and government regulations. Activist groups often portray old-fashioned steel-toothed leg-hold traps, but those are now only found in museums. The traps used to capture coyotes are the same ones used to live-capture and safely relocate animals into areas where they were formerly depleted. 

CH: Where would you like to take the brand in the next five years?

DR: There are still many more cold-weather markets that we want to expand into, but we'll always remain pure. We're not about to go and launch a new line of running shoes … it's just not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be the best in the world. That said, there are products that are within our core competency that we'll expand. While we're known for our heavy-duty parkas, we've had a tremendous response from consumers and the overall market for our multi-zone products, including Hybridge Lite and lightweight down products.

One of the biggest challenges we face as we manage our growth is maintaining our culture. Over the last decade the company has grown more than 3,000 per cent - this year alone our growth rate is 50 per cent, and we've added about 50 new employees. Making sure we are able to sustain an amazing culture and authentic work environment while we grow is vital. 

CH: What advice do you have for others trying to build a successful brand in the Canadian retail market?  

DR: Stay true to who you are and execute flawlessly. 

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