It’s that time of year when city streets from Portland to St Paul to Philadelphia are clogged with a familiar sight: not the dirty grey sludge snow banks piled up against the sidewalks, but the crisp red, white, and blue arctic landscape on those sidewalks. I’m referring to that little circular patch on the wearer’s left arm so prominent and identifiable as the Canada Goose logo. The brand’s parkas are so ubiquitous it can often seem as though a uniformed regiment is advancing from all points on the compass.
For the NYC unit, females seem to go for styles Shelburne, Victoria, and Rossclair; for men, the Langford, Expedition, and Carson are most popular, and for both, the preferred color is black. All these garments retail for around 950 dollars. All are filled with duck down. All have a coyote-fur removable trim around the hood, and almost everyone I see has chosen not to remove the fur.
Those who sport the coats do so with an air of unquestionable practicality. Urban dwellers like to consider themselves problem-solvers; they have “street smarts.” So if it’s cold––and this has been a particularly frigid winter not only in the Northeast but countrywide––why would you choose anything other than Canada Goose which claims, “Our products are designed to endure the world’s harshest elements.” Makes sense, right?
An outdated solution
Actually, that’s debatable. Last Fall Gucci added its name to the list of companies refusing to use fur, and joined the Fur Free Alliance, while CEO and President of parent company Kering, Marco Bizzari, said of fur, “I don’t think it’s modern…it’s a little bit outdated.” They were followed in December by Jimmy Choo, and its parent company Michael Kors, promising the same commitment. Others who have rejected fur are Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Net-a-Porter, and Selfridges. In fact, the final quarter of 2017 proved a high point for PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals) and anti-fur advocates, as globally recognized luxury brands turned away in droves from the exploitation and killing of animals for clothing and accessories.
Nowadays it’s relatively easy to find alternatives. For over 20 years, Amsterdam-based label, HoodLamb, whose designs are “inspired by nature at its wildest and weather at its worst,” and who claim they were the first to develop hemp outerwear, won the PETA award for Vegan Brand of the Year 2017. Their “Nordic parka” has an inner shell “insulated with Thermore® EcoDown®, a duck-less down that resists extreme cold [which] is lined with a 7mm pile height natural hemp and recycled PET faux-fur.” The style is practically identically to Canada Goose’s Victoria model but costs several hundred dollars less.
Fashion Or Fur?
Last year when Canada Goose collaborated with buzzy, rebellious Parisian label, Vetements, it might have been interpreted as a move by the company to stake out new fashion-forward territory. However their dependence on fur represents exactly the opposite of where fashion is going. Even the success of Gucci’s best-selling kangaroo-fur-lined loafer of two years ago which retailed at approximately the same price as a Canada Goose parka, and which became a status symbol that could have been revisited endlessly enriching the company’s coffers, didn’t stand in the way of their doing the right thing. But when FashionUnited asked Canada Goose if their continued use of animal fur and duck feather was out of step with fashion or if they felt any urgency to replace profit with the promotion of ethical materials, the company responded, “At Canada Goose we use fur and down for function to ensure we deliver a product that performs when and where it’s needed most. We are a function-first company with a longstanding commitment to the responsible and ethical sourcing of our materials, as evidenced by our transparency standards. All of our materials are sourced by suppliers who meet strict government and regulatory standards, as well as our own high standards.”
One could argue that the label’s consumer is not concerned with fashion but the status symbol of the coyote-fur trimmed coat, even if it renders them a duplicate of every fourth person on the street. Perhaps it gives them a sense of belonging to a wealthy clique, while certainly not an exclusive one. One might call them Canada Goose’s Geese, and they may still be basking in the afterglow of when this premium outerwear brand became Hollywood-friendly (the company introduced a practice of handing out coats for free to celebrities, especially actors filming in extreme weather locations which resulted in photographs of Daniel Craig and Emma Stone, among others, wearing them.)
But these arguments would not carry weight among the crowds of protesters regularly gathered outside their US flagship store in Manhattan’s Soho which opened in 2016 as the company surfed a wave of success after an infusion of capital from private equity firm, Bain Capital, and the accompanying opening of 2 new factories. The brand’s growth has been impressive. Business Insider estimated sales in 2001 at 3 million dollars which in 2014 had increased to to 200 million dollars, and that was pre-investment. In March of last year, the company went public. Simultaneously posters showing the bloody corpses of animals next to images of the coats bloomed across Manhattan real estate. Multi-label retailer Kith on Lafayette Street, which stocks Canada Goose, also find themselves regularly targeted by protesters.
So perhaps the questions posed to the company would be better directed at the smart New Yorkers and their equivalents in wintry cities across the globe who believe animal fur is essential to take them from the office to the snowcapped corners of Trader Joe’s, dodging the splashes from passing yellow cabs instead of fending off polo bears. Aren’t you smart enough to break free of the gaggle, leave the fur with the coyotes, the feathers with the ducks, and have a gander at alternative innovations for your cold-weather needs? The fashion industry will welcome you.
By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Street photos author’s own. Logo Canada Goose Facebook page and HoodLamb.com.