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Boss of Canada Goose sticking his neck out with pledge to go fur-free

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Canada Goose chief executive, Dani Reiss
Canada Goose chief executive, Dani Reiss

Dani Reiss, the billionaire boss of Canada Goose, did not want to work for the family business growing up.

When he was 18, he travelled through Europe with a friend and chronicled his adventures. He went on to read English literature and philosophy at the University of Toronto, in his native town.

“I never thought I would end up doing this,” says the 48-year-old, who took over the luxury firm in 2001. “I wanted to write short stories.”

His parents wanted him to carve his own path, too. The family ended up growing the fledgling white-lable maker of woolen vests, raincoats and snowmobile suits, which Reiss’s immigrant grandfather had set up in 1957, just as globalisation was picking up and manufacturing was moving overseas.

“They actually, my whole life, said to me, ‘whatever you do, don’t do this, it’s too hard’,” says Reiss, sitting with his legs crossed, ankle on knee, in an armchair by the window in the Grand Premier Suite at the Rosewood hotel in London.

He is impeccably dressed in a monochrome outfit: white shirt, black trousers, dark grey jacket, chunky Canada Goose black leather boots.

He maintains his sitting position - also known as “American figure four” - for most of the interview. The stance is supposedly used by people who have a competitive nature or are dominant and authoritative. That’s how Reiss comes across as he gives no-nonsense answers to questions.

Dani Reiss and Rita Ora at the launch of Canada Goose Footwear - David M. Benett/Getty Images Europe
Dani Reiss and Rita Ora at the launch of Canada Goose Footwear - David M. Benett/Getty Images Europe

"My folks had offered me a temporary three-month gig to make some cash for my travels, and then I did another three months and eventually decided to stay,” he says. “I liked it.”

Reiss has built it into a $903m (£535m) outdoor luxury brand from annual sales of just $3m (£1.8m) when he took over. Canada Goose went public in 2017, with the stock up by 188pc from $17 to $49. He brought manufacturing back to Canada.

“If you go back 20 years, the only people who would have heard of this stuff were people who lived and worked in the coldest places on earth, and so we brought that knowledge into urban centres,” he says.

To widen its appeal, it now sells knitwear, fleeces, hats, gloves and footwear globally, in addition to its staple thick coats that have been donned by Hollywood elites, polar explorers, Folie Douce goers and Davos attendees, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

But the company has had its fair share of detractors, too.

Over the years it has come under fire for selling parkas trimmed with coyote fur from animals typically caught in leg-hold traps, which sparked global protests from animal rights groups.

Dani Reiss
Dani Reiss

In the UK, two activists sustained a 15-month protest outside its Regent Street store in the capital and the Leeds store Flannels was targeted in 2019 for stocking Canada Goose.

Canada Goose said in June that it will cease buying fur by the end of this year and stop using it on its products by the end of 2022. French fashion house brand Saint Laurent made a similar pledge just months later as luxury firms strive to woo younger shoppers who say they are increasingly driven by environmental and ethical concerns when they part with cash.

“Going fur-free, you know, has been in the works for a long time, and we decided, you know, this is the right time to do it correctly,” Reiss says.

“We feel very comfortable that we can make jackets that are equally as functional as they were before without using fur, and that’s just more sustainable.

“It wasn’t a snap decision, it was something that we thought about for quite some time.”

Asked if he should have banned fur sooner, the chief executive says that it “happened all at the right time” and “I don’t think it would have changed anything materially if we’d done it sooner”.

With protests largely out of the picture, Canada Goose should be able to focus its efforts not only on sustainability, but its wider strategic pursuits.

The retailer plans to sell more goods through its own 40 stores and website, while moving away from third party-retailers. This mirrors similar moves from Nike and Adidas, allowing firms to hold on to more profits.

The pivot unsettled investors initially, with shares plunging in August, but they shot back up after solid quarterly sales in October. It also announced it was raising its full-year guidance and, unlike the rest of the world that has been bedevilled by supply chain problems, it has plenty of materials on hand to meet demand for this year and next.

Reiss bats away suggestions that traditional luxury players are increasingly encroaching on its turf by selling fashionable winter gear.

“Outerwear has really changed and become more of an annual or biannual buying cycle,” he says. “Our focus has always been, ‘let's just make sure we’re doing the right thing and we don’t worry about other people'.”

Although he has run Canada Goose for two decades, Reiss is in no rush to step down.