In the realm of luxury performance outerwear, two brands stand at the forefront: Canada Goose and Moncler. As formidable competitors in a narrow niche market, they don’t leave a lot of room for a new entrant. Only a certain clientele pays upwards of $1,000 for a down parka when perfectly serviceable ones are widely available for much less.
But former Coach/Tapestry CEO Victor Luis saw the opportunity in an upstart brand called Moose Knuckles, introduced by two young Canadian natives – Noah Stern and Ayal Twik. Stern comes from a family with 100 years of experience in outerwear and parka manufacturing, and Twik has deep fashion credentials.
Together, they’ve grown Moose Knuckles rapidly into a global brand with youthful zest and a disrupter attitude by delivering a more body-conscious fashion spin on the ‘Michelin Man’ contours of the traditional puffer jacket.
And its memorable name – who knew moose have knuckles – tells you everything you need to know about how the brand is approaching the competitive headwinds from the category’s leading stalwart brands.
“Moose Knuckles is built on Canadian craft with the highest quality materials and ultimate function, combined with a body-conscious fit,” said Luis, now the company’s CEO, after making an early investment in the company. “Moose Knuckles brings youthful irreverence and fashion positioning that’s quickly propelled us to the number three brand globally in performance outerwear.”
And Twik added, “Organically, we’ve become known as the streetwear brand in outerwear. We take the technical aspects of our product very seriously, but we also think it’s about fun. Our younger audience understands this.”
Moose Knuckles was initially conceived by two Ryerson design graduates in 2009. They came to Stern for help because his family business, Freed and Freed, operated a factory in Winnipeg that got its start producing apparel for Eaton’s department store, then coats for the Canadian military and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It also was the Canadian licensee for London Fog for many years.
“We learned how to make all kinds of cold weather coats, including down and wool coats and raincoats,” Stern said. “We understand how to manufacture to the very highest specifications to service the military in frigid conditions. Winnipeg is one of the coldest major cities in the world, so we know cold and can deliver the highest quality outerwear in the world.”
Seeing the potential to disrupt the traditional down coat business, Stern and Twik bought the Moose Knuckles concept in 2010. “We looked at the business and saw the same ‘sleeping bag,’ puffy, boxy looks and defined our mission to create the warmest coat that flatters the body, so a man or woman can still feel sexy wearing it.”
Attention to Details
Moose Knuckles winter-weather protection is proven through research conducted by the Institute of Environmental Research at Kansas State University. Moose Knuckles Stirling Parka was tested against four comparable parkas, including those from Canada Goose and Moncler, and found to provide the highest total thermal insulation value.
“Building a down parka is one of the most complex garments to produce,” Stern explained. “We use some 60 different materials and 100 individual parts that have to come together and interact with each other. It’s very technical.”
Take the jacket’s zipper. “We are obsessed with zippers. We needed a zipper that would never freeze, so we went to a company from Japan that reengineered a metal zipper used for furniture to make a freeze-free zipper exclusively for us,” Twik shared.
“Most of our competitors use plastic zippers, but we use only the best luxury materials known to man. Our zipper is that and I could tell you a similar story about all the 60+ materials that go into our jackets,” he continued.
With the functional aspects of Moose Knuckles proven, the company had a more challenging task to deliver on its fashion profile.
“It’s easier to make a boxy, puffy down jacket than a tailored one,” CEO Luis said. “It must be tailored to the body, allow for different amounts of layering and different customer usage, and still provide functional benefits. In delivering all that, we are unique.”
“That’s where our value lies,” he continued. “Value is the customer feeling they’re receiving an investment piece that provides function, but also makes them feel good about it as a fashion statement. We have the material and functional integrity, the craftsmanship plus the fashion which is unique to us relative to the major competitors in our space.”
Fun, Fit, Function
Delivering on the brand’s promise of fun, fit and function is proven by Moose Knuckles’ rapid growth over the past twelve years.
“Moose Knuckles started in our home in Canada, then international travelers discovered our great product and our unique story. Today we’ve built a business that is evenly split between North America, Europe and Asia,” CEO Luis explains. “Most brands scale in one market then expand globally, but we’ve grown our global presence side-by-side. We see a long runway as we expand out.”
Besides its e-commerce platform, Moose Knuckles is sold in four U.S. flagship stores located in NYC’s Soho, Roosevelt Field, NY, Atlanta and Chicago, four pop-ups and three outlet locations. Plus, it’s carried by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.
In Europe and Asia, it has a similar high profile with leading multi-brand luxury retailers. Overall, Moose Knuckles has 35 stores worldwide with about 400 wholesale distribution partners.
Asia is a particularly appealing market, with the company recently hiring Eric Tosello as its executive vice president of Asia-Pacific. He is headquartered in Shanghai and brings senior executive experience in the region from Lacoste and The North Face.
What attracted Luis initially to invest in the brand, then to sign on as CEO, was the challenge of coming from behind to make Moose Knuckles a driving force in the otherwise conventional outerwear market.
“There are three spaces where the vast majority of luxury’s profit pool lies: handbags and accessories, footwear and outerwear. Outerwear is the smallest of the three, roughly $12 to $15 billion, but highly fragmented.
“Moose Knuckles has a real point of difference as a brand, and we’ve rapidly grown to the number three brand in the category. Our customers appreciate our youthful, irreverent fashion positioning backed up by our better fit and industry-leading functionality,” Luis concluded.