Canada Goose recycling program aids local native community

Canada Goose has been purging its factory of thousands of pounds of excess fabric and materials by sharing them with Canada’s native community through resource centers it has established in the Arctic territories. SNEWS digs into the story behind this unique recycling partnership.
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Canada Goose has been purging its factory of thousands of pounds of excess fabric and materials by sharing them with Canada’s native community through resource centers it has established in the Arctic territories. This relationship has allowed traditional sewers access to free materials to make their own outerwear.

“Many of them have a tradition of sewing for their community. It’s their job within the community. We don’t necessarily want to take away from that, so we share the fabrics with them they couldn’t get,” Kevin Spreekmeester, vice president of marketing for Canada Goose, told SNEWS®. “At the same time, it has helped us with our recycling issues.”

Two centers opened in 2009 in Nunavut in the towns of Pond Inlet and Iqaluit, the capital of the Nunavut territory with a community of close to 30,000 people. The centers are open every second week on a Saturday, where sewers have access to free fabrics, buttons, zippers, hook-and-loop closures and other supplies.

The first two centers proved so popular that a third location opened in 2010 at Larga Baffin House in Ottawa, Ontario, a rooming home for patients and family who are visiting the city for medical care. It also provides sewing machines for visitors.

The concept for the resource centers -- which has helped Canada Goose purge its facility of materials stored for years, plus move along a seasonal build-up of off-colors, flaws, and ends -- came about purely by chance. The company invited two traditional sewers from Pond Inlet, located in the northern tip of Baffin Island, to work with its design team to create an iconic jacket in 2007.

“We thought, what is it about Inuit design that has worked for hundreds of years, and how can we combine that with the Canada Goose technology? Sort of the insulation expertise to make an ultimate jacket,” he said. “It was a celebration of culture.”

As they were walking through the Toronto factory, one of the women reached in a garbage can filled with discarded fabric scraps from the cutting table and asked if she could take it home. Instead, the company offered to send her a box of materials. “She was so beside herself,” Spreekmeester recalled.

It didn’t take long for the encounter to get him thinking, leading to a brainstorming session with CEO Dani Reiss, whose grandfather started the family-owned company 53 years ago (www.canada-goose.com).

“We said we can deal with a couple things here. One, we can recycle materials or fabrications we’re not going to be using again. Two, we can help the people of the north,” Spreekmeester said.

The company contacted First Air (www.firstair.ca) -- considered the “airline of the north” in Canada -- and explained what they were trying to achieve by sending materials northward a few times a year. Then it contacted The North West Company (www.northwest.ca), the leading retailer of food, products and services to rural communities in Canada, asking if it would provide space to open the resource centers. Both companies agreed to partner with Canada Goose.

The company now sends four shipments a year -- about 500 kilos, or 1,100 pounds, of materials per shipment to each destination. For 2010, about 5,000 pounds of materials have been shipped.

Spreekmeester estimates that 400-500 apparel pieces have been made, ranging from jackets to traditional clothing. The most popular item to make is a traditional amauti jacket that’s designed to carry a child in the same garment as the parent so the child is warm and safe from frostbite, wind and cold.

“These are the original Canadian people, and they don’t get a lot of support -- so few southern companies recognize the intellectual property that’s available in the north,” he said. “It supports a traditional way of life, and solves a recycling challenge we have.”

Canada Goose has also created a special patch for distribution at the resource centers that takes cues from the company logo patches it sews on its own jackets. In place of the company’s Arctic illustration, the patch has an iceberg with writing underneath in the native Inuit language that reads, “handmade.” The names of the resource center partners are sewn on the outer edge.

“People love them. They put them all over the creations they make,” he said.

Other companies have expressed interest in helping and also provided materials, including Tilley Endurables (www.tilley.com). Canada Goose wants to expand and add more resource centers, but the biggest challenge is the cost of shipping. First Air absorbs the costs, but it also limits the number of times it can transport shipments.

He added that company representatives are frequently invited to corporate social responsibility conventions, where they’re queried on Canada Goose’s CSR policies and programs.

“We try to keep our initiatives here as grassroots and authentic and simple as we can,” Spreekmeester said. “We believe if we do things that are right for our brand, and right for us, in the end, we’ll be accomplishing corporate social responsibility. We don’t need to draw up a special plan for it, it’s just organically in the things that we do.”

--Wendy Geister

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