Fashioniastas can understand why someone might spend days looking for the right sweater, maybe even traveling a hundred miles to find it. But that search would seem downright modest to Jackie Poriadjian-Asch, whose hunt for the right knitwear spanned countries across the globe and took a total of three years.
Wait—just for a sweater? We should explain. Poriadjian-Asch is the CMO of Canada Goose, the high-end outerwear brand renowned for its thousand-dollar, down-filled parkas. After nearly six decades of being the outfitter for cold-weather cognoscenti, Canada Goose began a careful expansion into spring wear earlier this year (think: light jackets, quilted crewnecks), and is now ready to try its hand at knits. Its inaugural sweater collection makes it debut today.
“Continuing on [our] path of exploration, the next logical step for us was knitwear,” Poriadjian-Asch said. “Consumers have been looking for this from us for a very long time.”
As a privately-held apparel brand whose reputation rests on a 13-step production process and hand-stitched assembly—all in factories that really are located in Canada—the Goose isn’t just in the enviable position of not having to rush things, a slow and methodical process is pretty much what consumers pay for. “We had an end goal and a final state in mind, but we were not going to rush something to market that wasn’t going to raise the bar,” she said. “It had to feel like it was truly Canada Goose DNA. We took our time to do it right.”
They took their time, sure enough—some 36 months to search the world for the desired ultra-fine merino wool yarn and the experienced craftspeople to knit with it. The search ultimately led to Argentina (for the yarn) and Italy and Romania (for the knitting.) And while Poriadjian-Asch credits a team led by chief product officer Lee Turlington, it was also her own business savvy that turned what would have been just a scouting trip into a colorful piece of marketing.
To help promote the launch, Canada Goose produced a short film about its sweater quest—shot on location and featuring a few of the craftspeople involved in making the goods. There’s Anna Maria, owner of Italian knitwear company Fuzzi (which, incidentally, was responsible for Jean-Paul Gaultier’s influential knits in the early 1980s) and Lee Turlington, who judges the quality of the fabric with his experienced hands. Employees from historic Italian mill Tollegno 1900 dye the wool in the collection’s signature earth tones.
The film—which will live on the brand’s social media channels—takes a page from Canada Goose’s proven marketing playbook. Older videos on its corporate site explain the craftsmanship of the parkas by following veteran workers like trimming sewer Maria Arruda and cutting-room supervisor Nike Fava onto the factory floor while they talk about the care and precision that goes into their work.
In recent years, many brands (Salvatore Ferragamo, Dunhill and Red Wing, to name a few) have sunk marketing dollars into making videos that explain the hands-on craftsmanship behind their products. But Canada Goose departs from the usual formula by screening its video backwards. Instead of kicking off with raw materials and the assembly line, the video starts with a finished sweater that, with the video running in reverse, slowly devolves back into its component parts. The film not only makes for unusual viewing but, according to Poriadjian-Asch, is actually a more logical presentation. “Part of why you use the video in reverse is, as the story unravels before you, you have to fall in love with the product [first] to care why it’s made,” she said.
And indeed, Canada Goose is betting heavily that consumers will care: Its sweaters are not cheap. Prices for the 15-piece line will start at $295 for a basic mid-weight sweater and go up to HyBridge Knits that top out at $650.
The brand’s standing reputation with sophisticated and well-heeled apparel shoppers will have to do much of the selling, since Canada Goose is planning a comparatively limited marketing push. Aside from the short film, the brand has invested in online marketing including pre-roll video and programmatic display ads. As Poriadjian-Asch puts it, because “we’re not a mass-marketing type of brand,” the strategic digital outreach is designed primarily to tap customers already familiar with the Canada Goose name and guide them into stores (either the company’s own locations or high-end retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue) where they can try on the sweaters themselves.
While there’s little doubt that high-end shoppers will fail to recognize the Canada Goose name, there is a gamble inherent in branching into a new product line that—save for the cold-weather theme—has comparatively little to do with the jackets and parkas that made the company famous.
“Anytime a strong, successful brand strays away from its core product, there are risks to both the existing business and to the new line-up,” observes Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner of the Retail Advisors Network. “It sounds like they are starting small and not pushing it too hard, which is smart to mitigate the risks.”
As for the craftsmanship video, while Winder appreciates the thought that went into it, he worries that so much time spent on cinematic shots of yarn and sewing machines may come at the expense of the product attribute that Canada Goose customers will naturally be looking for: warmth. “They don’t get specific as to how the material is superior and what benefits it offers outdoor enthusiasts,” he said. “I think they could have done a better job linking the craftsmanship to the product in the field working hard to help keep enthusiasts warm in a harsh climate.”
Time will tell, of course, if Canada Goose sweaters will bring the company the sort of renown (and revenue) that those down-stuffed parkas did—especially two years ago, when it seemed like every urban hipster north of Baltimore was sporting Canada Goose. But Poriadjian-Asch doesn’t seem apprehensive. “It’s so much more than just another sweater,” she said.
“We believe that this going to be a core addition to the wardrobe. This is not intended to be a one-off. These are classics. Even if you buy a new piece every season, you’ll continue to love it more than the piece you’ve already acquired.”