The Coat Controversy: A Wild Goose Chase

There is more than what meets the eye behind the popular winter clothing brand Canada Goose—namely, its exclusivity and unethical sourcing.

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By Sophia Li

At Stuyvesant, the arrival of December marks the annual reappearance of New York City's quintessential winter outerwear: the Canada Goose parka. On cold, snowy mornings, in walk the Chads and Kevin Nguyens—clad in Langfords, Expeditions, and Chateaus—through the familiar bridge doors.

Flexing a price tag in the ballpark of $1000, the Arctic-grade parka has taken cities like New York and Chicago by storm (blizzard?). Donned by celebrities like Bradley Cooper and Rihanna, featured on countless magazine covers, and even incorporated into Drake's own clothing line—October's Very Own—starting in 2010, the Goose rides a hype comparable to the rise of the streetwear-turned-luxury brand Supreme or when the AirPods first came out in 2016. It gives its owners a status of some kind—one of affluence, perhaps, superiority, even.

It's for that reason that some schools have banned Canada Goose jackets altogether. In England, for example, Woodchurch High School made the move to forbid their students from wearing any Canada Goose, Moncler, or Pyrenex coats. According to headteacher Rebekah Phillips, the ban was made to protect students from “poverty shaming.” Given the U.K.'s high child poverty rate, which is predicted to be as high as 40 percent by 2022, “poverty proofing”—or the act of auditing schools to protect poorer students from being stigmatized by their peers—is becoming increasingly popular. Woodchurch High School is neither the first nor the last school to employ “poverty proofing”: it follows the example of St. Wilfrid's Primary School, also in England, which “poverty proofed” students’ stationery when it banned designer pencil cases; Merseyside school did the same not long after, adding expensive coats alongside designer book bags to their list of banned school items.

The danger of Canada Goose's price tag isn't just limited to classroom classism—on top of “poverty shaming,” the Canada Goose craze sends an open invitation for crime. Last winter, for example, Chicago police reported an increase in robberies targeting people wearing the luxury coat. In just one week, six people had their Canada Goose coats taken at gunpoint. And the same happens at college campuses—back in 2016, campus police at Boston University reported several Canada Goose thefts of their own.

The problems with Canada Goose don't stop there. Since the brand’s inception, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been protesting Canada Goose's fur—which lines the hood of each parka—and arguing that its sourcing is inhumane. According to a statement by PETA, “Animals trapped for their fur can suffer for days and face blood loss, frostbite, gangrene, and attacks by predators,” and “if they aren't dead when the trapper returns, they may be shot, strangled, stomped on, or bludgeoned to death.” The advocacy organization launched a full-scale campaign against Canada Goose in 2016—it has since organized massive protests and erected anti-Canada Goose billboards at every new store opening and even gone as far as acquiring stock in the company to voice their demands as a shareholder.

But as of this year, the battle against Canada Goose's fur seems to have taken a turn for the better. According to their latest sustainability report, Canada Goose will no longer buy new fur from trappers and, instead, use only reclaimed fur—fur that already exists in the marketplace. To facilitate this transition, Canada Goose plans to begin buying back fur ruffs from customers in the coming months in order to recycle them.

Canada Goose, however, will not abandon the use of fur altogether. According to PJ Smith, director of fashion policy at the Humane Society of the United States, “switching to ‘reclaimed fur’ feels like an unnecessarily long goodbye for this company's outdated relationship with fur; ultimately their future must be fur-free.”

But according to Canada Goose chief executive Dani Reiss, despite the demands of animal protection advocacy groups like PETA and Humane Society International, the fur is here to stay. In fact, Mr. Reiss argued that their move to fur recycling didn't have to do with “external pressure” at all. “We're still using fur,” he clarified. "And the fact that we've been targeted did not factor into this decision." Instead, he cited functionality, noting, "It's important to us that our products work."

In terms of his company's success, though, Mr. Reiss seems to be making the right call. Among customers, satisfaction with the quality of the jacket seems to be the biggest factor. According to the top review under the Expedition Parka, a Canada Goose bestseller, the jacket "has performed wonderfully in very windy [and] cold conditions." Indeed, the functionality of the jacket is what makes the Canada Goose brand a favorite; according to the company, the fur disrupts airflow, doesn't freeze, and doesn't hold water, making it perfect for extreme weather.

And yet, the company's decision has divided the fashion industry. Though major fashion brands like Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Gucci, H&M, Zara, Versace, and Gap have taken strides in condemning the use of fur, the Canada Goose parka remains a symbol in the fashion world. In addition to Drake collaborating with the brand, Marc Jacobs has also displayed models flaunting Canada Goose on his runway, and Sports Illustrated featured Kate Upton with the brand’s clothing as well. In spite of the controversy, the company's revenues have continued to grow at a significant rate—as of 2019, Canada Goose stock trades at a staggering 77 times earnings.

So, to the relief of the Chads and Kevin Nguyens, it's safe to conclude that despite the “poverty shaming,” uptick in violent crimes, and backlash against unethical fur sourcing, Canada Goose isn't going anywhere. As temperatures start to dip, you can expect to see the Geese filling the streets once again—and though we won't be present at Stuy to see it on our classmates, it's important to read the fine print. Yes, the parkas are warm, fashionable, and flashy. But there's a story behind the swagger.