The Drapers Interview - Dani Reiss of Canada Goose
Under Dani Reiss, Canada Goose has stretched its wings to encompass both Arctic explorers and suburban adventurers.
We free people from the cold,” says Dani Reiss, emphatically explaining his mission statement for Canada Goose, the down-filled outerwear specialist founded by his grandfather in 1957. “We manufacture the best and warmest jackets on earth, all
made in Canada,” says today’s president and chief executive.
Big claims, but the Toronto-based brand has been a leader in the extreme weather outerwear market for decades. However, recent years have seen the brand cross over, blurring the line between high-end functional performancewear and luxury fashion designed for warmth. The result is that the brand’s famous red and blue Canada-shaped logo is now as likely to be worn by parents and their children on chilly suburban school runs as it is by hardy Arctic explorers.
The past few seasons have seen a particular surge in strong growth and, in December 2013, the brand sold a majority stake to private equity firm Bain Capital for an undisclosed sum. When Drapers meets Reiss he is sat in the brand’s swish new central London showroom, which acts as the European marketing and wholesale hub, and is proudly wearing the latest lightweight jacket from his brand.
“I never thought I’d do this and I felt no pressure to do it,” says Reiss of his job at the helm of the company, founded by his grandfather Sam Tick and then run by his father David Reiss from 1982 until 2001. “My parents always told me, ‘whatever you do don’t get into the family business’. And I never wanted to. I never wanted my parents to give me a job; I didn’t want to be one of those kids.”
But after studying English Literature at the University of Toronto, Reiss needed some extra cash so took a summer job at the business in 1997. Three years later he became Canada Goose president and chief executive, aged just 27.
“I travelled to trade shows around Europe and showed these jackets to people and the reaction was amazing, because no one had seen them outside of the performance stores. I realised there was a real opportunity,” explains Reiss. “The reason why I decided to stay and ended up loving it was the authenticity and the fact that it is a real, true product. Growing up I never really recognised that,” he admits. “My parents always wanted us to wear Canada Goose jackets because they were warm but I always wanted to just wear my jean jacket. I didn’t really get it.”
Luckily, Reiss quickly got it, becoming “consumed” by the business and soon led it to success. It subsequently grew 3,500% in a decade, with menswear, womenswear and kidswear stockists spreading to more than 50 countries worldwide and, although he won’t reveal the exact figures, Reiss says: “We’ve grown from CAN$3m (£1.6m) to well in excess of CAN$150m (£81.5m).” This alone proves he is far from ‘that kid’ working at daddy’s company.
In the UK, the mild autumn 13 season still saw the brand’s 95 stockists score an average sell-through of 80% with its jackets, while autumn 14 forward orders have increased an impressive 223% compared with autumn 13.
But is the brand just riding the wave of a specific outerwear trend, as all things performancewear suddenly become cool?
“Function has become fashion,” admits Reiss. “But when someone wears it on the streets of Toronto where it’s minus 15 degrees, is that fashion or function? Maybe it’s both. But then we sell very well in Japan and it rarely goes below zero degrees there.”
You’ll still find Canada Goose in outdoor stores such as Snow + Rock, but now it also hangs on the rails of cool boutiques and high-end department stores such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols, with these non-performance stores now accounting for up to 60% of revenues. So how does Reiss feel when he sees his technical innovations and Arctic-ready jackets on temperate city streets?
“A Land Rover wasn’t designed to be an urban vehicle, it was designed to be a utility vehicle in the world’s harshest climates, but people drive it in cities all the time and never go off-road. People just want to have the best. And Canada Goose is the Land Rover of clothing,” he says with a smile.
“First and foremost function is always number one, we never compromise on that. We make the warmest jackets out there,” he adds. “I think it’s a trend for sure, but there’s a difference between trends and fads and that’s important. Trends are sustainable.
But people confuse the two and think ‘they’re popular, but they’ll be out of style soon’.
I don’t think that’s always the case.”
And stockists across the market agree. Natalie Pearce, senior buyer at sports lifestyle etailer Surfdome.com, sees the label as a “high-end technical, but also fashionable outerwear brand”. Considering Surfdome saw Canada Goose sales increase 164% for autumn 13 compared with autumn 12, she doesn’t see it as only a short-term success. “We have stocked the brand for the past four years and it has grown season on season for us. Our customers love it.”
“The first loyal client was the traveller and now the more fashion-conscious client is being drawn to it,” says Mei Chung, menswear buyer at London designer independent Browns. Will her customers get bored of it? “Not at all,” she says. “I see Canada Goose as a timeless brand with deep cultural roots. It is known for its high-performance coats and this is what gives the brand credibility.”
Shriti Sood, co-owner of premium independent Banana Connection in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, has also increased her spend across both menswear and womenswear for the coming season, because she believes the brand is here to stay. “I do think it is at its peak right now. However, although I think it will slow down, Canada Goose will become a star item for those that want to invest in good outerwear,” she says. “It is selling items that are tried, tested and loved; why change what you have spent an age doing so well?”
However, this recent surge in popularity does come with its problems, and Sood believes care must be taken: “I think it needs to be careful that it doesn’t flood the market and become over-exposed like a lot of other brands.”
What is Reiss doing to combat this? “We’re very careful with distribution, we don’t over-distribute,” he says firmly. “I think people can get concerned, but it’s all about the product. As long as the product is great, that’s all we need to worry about. At the end of the day I find it funny when people say ‘do you think you’ve sold too much stuff?’ Well, I’m in business; we do this to sell stuff.”
What’s more, Canada Goose is taking steps to evolve, with a whole department working on innovations. The brand’s core Arctic line of high-performance outerwear used to make up 100% of sales, but Reiss believes it has fallen to about 80% as new products catch customers’ eyes. These include lighter, waterproof, breathable shells that maintain the brand’s values and standards, alongside the Branta line, which Reiss describes as still function first, but more fashion-forward and design-driven.
“You’re not going to see us making bathing suits any time soon. We have no intention of making the wrong product just to have a summer-focused line,” he says of the winter focus. “Harrods has a 12-month a year Canada Goose shop-in-shop. We don’t even make summer clothes, but sell there all year round.”
And what about a diffusion line, to catch those shoppers whose budgets don’t quite stretch to the luxury-level retail prices of £225 for a gilet to £1,200 for a parka? “It’s much more fun and challenging to make better things and go upmarket. Making cheaper things is no fun. Diffusion lines don’t interest me,” he says.
Although Reiss sometimes sounds blindly confident, the truth is that he knows his brand inside out and, most importantly, knows what is best for it. For example, selling the stake to private equity firm Bain Capital in December last year was a clear sign that Reiss has his eyes locked firmly on future expansion, gaining what he bluntly calls “growth equity”.
“We ended up doing a majority deal with Bain Capital because they are the right partners. They’re entrepreneurial, they believe in our vision, they believe in Made in Canada, they believe in the future,” he says. And what is that future? Although he is tight lipped about that, he does say it would be “super cool” to have some standalone stores, although not in the near future. A transactional website will launch in Canada next year and the rest of the world might follow, with digital at the top of the agenda.
“There’s no question that we have a five-year plan and long-term ideas, and there is a huge opportunity. But the bigger you get the harder it gets,” concedes Reiss. While recent seasons have seen Canada Goose leading the wave for high-performing functional fashion, Reiss is busy writing the next chapter, and it looks like there is a cosy future in store.