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How Canada Goose and its logo became ubiquitous

Superhot coat maker Canada Goose: Authentic or destined for a backlash?

My husband doesn't get asked whether he's been to the Arctic as much as he used to.

It was one of the sheer pleasures of being an early adopter of Canada Goose coats, the Land Rovers of winter coats, before the brand exploded everywhere. Somehow one ended up on a half-naked Kate Upton on the cover of the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Once you're introduced to the brand, its eye-popping red, white and blue circular logo with a map of the Arctic in the center is impossible to miss.

Even at a price of roughly $800 per coat, the purchase felt so prudent. There was so much evidence to support it.

In 2009, colleague Colleen Mastony walked along frozen Lake Michigan in a half-dozen or so of the toughest coats and declared Canada Goose's Mystique Parka the warmest.

My husband's jacket, the Expedition Parka, was designed for scientists working at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. The company, founded in 1957, supplies the United States Antarctic Program and still makes its coats in Canada.

And the brand, for the most part, eschews that shiny, flashy and so very un-Midwestern fabric often found on coats from its rival, Moncler.

So the logo combined with the coyote fur-trimmed hood, the heavy-duty everything and the lack of flash imbued the product with enough authenticity to fool people into thinking the hubby had been to the Arctic.

Such questions used to make us snicker. I loved it when people would walk up to me on the street to talk about my parka and share stories about their Canada Goose coat.

Wearing it feels like being inside a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

It comfortably got me to work on that 16-below-zero morning commute in January 2014.

I recommended the brand to a business school classmate moving here from Texas.

I thought about buying a second one.

Then, in the last year or so, I noticed that the brand was becoming a trend, which I found quite satisfying — the coat is a great coat — until I came across a New York magazine story a few weeks ago titled: "What Made this the Winter of Canada Goose?"

And there, in the fourth paragraph, I found how two coats Eric and I spent weeks hunting down just a few years ago had become ubiquitous.

In 2013, Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mitt Romney co-founded, bought a majority stake in Canada Goose, infusing it with at least $250 million.

When Dani Reiss, the grandson of the company's founder, took over as chief executive in 2001, annual sales were $3 million. The company is expected to sell more than $300 million this year, Fortune reported.

In the U.S., the company's fastest-growing market, revenue rose more than 45 percent last year, according to Canada Goose. It bought a new manufacturing facility in the Toronto area in January to help avoid selling out of stock after opening a New York City sales office in December and a U.S. headquarters in Denver in 2013.

"This growth was the result of a deliberate campaign," wrote New York magazine's Noreen Malone. "Canada Goose has been spotted on a number of movie stars — which may or may not have something to do with its practice of handing the coats out for free to certain people at Sundance, which it helped sponsor — but that has resulted in an unexpectedly glamorous set of associations for a garment that both adds bulk and is Canadian.

"Then, too, the goose feathers, the company touts, are not only 'free-range,' they are Hutterite, thus appealing to the sort of person who likes their eggs organic and from Amish country."

That's not me.

Then I remembered that I had called my sister, a management consultant, after reading the story to complain that I felt duped.

"Their growth wasn't organic!" I whined.

It was, she countered. Consumers are buying the coats because they're high-quality and made in Canada. And making fashion in a first-world country like Canada is expensive, requiring a scale that only outside financing or a public offering can help a company obtain.

Fortune magazine says the trick will be to avoid the kind of backlash that can kill "superhot brands, especially ones with such an easily identifiable logo."

Reiss' response was that the company just had to continue making an "amazing" product and avoid slapping its logo on "crappy stuff."

It's not that simple.

Affluent millennials covet authenticity. So can a brand that wraps armies of lawyers and consultants in coats designed for Antarctic scientists really be classified as authentic?

In Chicago, yes, because on that January day when my Mystique Parka comfortably got me to work, it was actually warmer at the South Pole than it was here.

mmharris@tribpub.com

Twitter @chiconfidential

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