Last year, Burberry and Chanel announced they would no longer sell merchandise with fur. They followed brands like Gucci, Michael Kors, and Jimmy Choo (which is owned by Michael Kors), which all phased out fur from their collections last year. The city of Los Angeles also just banned the sale of fur.
Scheinfeld says Canada Goose Outlet is open to the idea of alternative materials to fur and is exploring new options.
“Fur is a crucial element at the highest level of warmth, and no other fake version can currently function like it,” she says. “That being said, it’s for extreme environments, and there are alternative solutions.”
Down feathers, on the other hand, are another story. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has waged war against brands like Canada Goose, publishing investigations on animal cruelty (which the company denies) and buying billboards near the brand’s stores in New York and Chicago to persuade customers to stop buying down coats. But purists in the winter apparel industry say there’s no getting around the use of down in premium products.
“We’ve looked into synthetic fabrics that say they are as authentic and as warm as down, and they just aren’t,” says Berkowitz, of Norwegian Wool. “The truth is that the alternatives don’t have the same results. Synthetic down doesn’t have the same effects in the form of insulation. When we are selling a premium product, we’re not going to compromise because we want to give the customer the warmest option out there.”
But some companies are choosing to invest in new materials and abandon feathers altogether. Fortress, a Utah-based winter brand that promises to keep customers warm as they are “working in the oil fields in North Dakota in the dead of winter, paragliding in November in Utah,” has ditched down-filled puffy coats. Instead, it’s invented its own insulation material it calls Aeris, which is a polymer foam that the company says is just as warm as down but can also get wet.
It’s similar to Arc’teryx, the technical outerwear company long favored by outdoors enthusiasts, which sells shelled jackets made with Gore-Tex, a fabric company specializing in warm and waterproof materials. Huckberry, an outdoor gear startup company, is also betting on down alternatives, and is selling “Scandinavian” outerwear made of waterproof and windproof polyester.
Even the North Face, a VF Corporation-owned giant in the winter apparel space that makes $12 billion a year, seems to be stepping up its portfolio to compete with Canada Goose and Moncler. It’s spent the past two years developing a new material, FutureLight, which it unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The new fabric is light, waterproof, and, most importantly, unprecedentedly warm. The North Face promises it “will redefine the future of technical outerwear” when it debuts the material this fall in pants, coats, and gloves.
Then, of course, there’s Heattech, the best-selling warming material from the Japanese company Uniqlo. Since Uniqlo debuted its rayon heat retention textile fabric in 2003, Heattech has developed a cult-like status — no down or feathers necessary, and certainly no price tag like Moncler or Canada Goose. Uniqlo makes Heattech underwear, sweaters, leggings, hats, and jeans and has sold more than 1 billion Heattech items, which shoppers flock to because most products are under $15.
Some of the technological innovation isn’t fabric-based: This past November, the clothing startup Ministry of Supply debuted the Mercury intelligent coat, which it claims is the “first intelligent heated jacket,” for $495. The winter coat has a battery that powers a smart thermostat, which reacts to the wearer’s body and environment, giving up to 10 watts of heat.
Ministry of Supply believes its smart coat is necessary for when “you’re commuting, walking the dog, or taking that vacation to the North Pole.”