Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss on how to build an international brand

The maker of ultra-warm down coats has emerged as an unlikely fashion brand, and with two new stores opening it’s looking to expand further


Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss

Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty)

When it comes to uniquely Canadian brands, Canada Goose stands front and center. The Toronto-based producer of down-filled winter jackets has built its reputation as a stand-out luxury brand ever since president and CEO Dani Reiss took over the company in 2001. Reiss built the brand on the notion of authenticity, focusing on the quality of the company’s made-in-Canada jackets, versatile enough to be worn by urban city-dwellers and arctic explorers alike. Now, heading into 2017, the brand is embarking on a new chapter in its 59-year history: two physical retail storefronts, and an expanded line of spring apparel. We sat down with Reiss to talk about bricks-and-mortar retail, diversified product offerings, and how to build a brand where the term “authentic” is more than just a buzzword.

What’s next for the Canada Goose brand?

We’re opening our first-ever bricks-and-mortar store in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre on October 18, which is very exciting. It’s a place for our fans to come and congregate; opening a physical retail store is something I wish we’d done sooner. Following on the heels of that we’ll be opening a store in SoHo, in New York City. So that’s two stores in pretty short order, in two of the most important retail markets in the world

Why the push for bricks-and-mortar storefronts?

We’ve been able to create a strong community, I think largely based on the strength of our product. But I think that some of the best brands in the world have demonstrated that having a synergy between bricks-and-mortar retail and online retail can create a really powerful community. These days we’re seeing some of the best and strongest online brands—like Amazon, for example—starting to open actual retail stores. I think that the synergy between physical storefronts and online sales are important.

How do you go about marketing the brand?

I think that we’ve always tried to do things differently and swim upstream, and I think that’s more challenging and fun. In the early days we would make sure that the coldest people were wearing our stuff—we would make sure that the bouncers outside of nightclubs were wearing them, that scalpers outside of stadiums were wearing our products. Today those are no longer our tactics, but we don’t want to transition to being a brand that just does glossy ads in lifestyle magazines.

The most iconic item of Canada Goose apparel is the classic winter jacket—do you worry about people growing tired of that one signature product, as they did with offerings from brands like Ugg?

I think that first and foremost we make amazing products; second of all, we have a very diverse product range. We don’t make just one jacket, we make all different styles, all different weights, for all different kinds for different seasons. Our spring offering is getting stronger and stronger, and all of our products do very well. So I don’t think people get tired of brands that continually innovate, and continually bring the best products to the marketplace. I think that we’re one of those brands.

You’re working on developing your most extensive spring collection yet for 2017—what can people expect from that?

Next spring is really exciting—for the most part we’ve stuck with our heritage of outerwear, but we’ve played around with a lot of different fabrics and a lot of different weights. Getting into a new category of clothing is always difficult, but we’ve had some really great performing styles in spring that we’re looking to build off of. This past spring we had spring products, but this spring ‘17 collection is a much broader product offering, and I personally believe it’s the best comprehensive expression of what Canada Goose should look like in spring that we’ve ever created.

Are you worried about branching into lighter clothes, given the brand’s strong association with a colder climate?

I think we have a very strong brand—people associate us with winter, with Canada, with protection from the elements, but also with things like craftsmanship. At the end of the day, the fans own the brand, and I think we have our fans’ permission to go into other categories, like spring.

What do you think people like about the Canada Goose brand?

I think they love the authenticity, I think that they love that it’s real. I think we’re a very different kind of company because we don’t have to make stories up—we don’t have to fake it. We talk about the true experiences that people have wearing our products—sometimes in the harshest circumstances on earth, sometimes in urban places—and these aren’t contrived marketing stories, these things are real and true. And in a world today where everything is branded, I think when you encounter a brand like ours it really resonates with you, because it feels real. I think a lot of people try to replace authenticity with fancy marketing campaigns—we’re fortunate because we have a great heritage that we can draw on.