The Interview: Marco D’Avanzo, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, Moose Knuckles

Moose Knuckles

Canadian outerwear specialist Moose Knuckles is taking risks by opening pop-up stores globally this year – in London, Milan and Amsterdam during October, having also opened in New York, Beijing and Dusseldorf among other cities. But why now in such uncertain times for retail? Marco D’Avanzo, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for the brand, explains all.

Why have you decided to open physical pop-up stores in times of such retail uncertainty?

Embracing the ‘new normal’ since the very beginning with the opening of a series of pop-ups in a post COVID-19 scenario might be a bold move, but bold has defined us since the early days, and we want to continue fuelling those who break the boundaries with us. We felt that not all the answers to this situation are to be met in the digital space, which is always a big area of focus for us. We are embracing the digital transformation and evolving our language and consumer journey to meet the new world. At the same time, our community knows and loves us for our grassroots, authentic and emotional connection, which we are planning to reinforce through our unique experiential concept in store. Strategically, we also see this year as an opportunity to prepare for our next phase of expansion, which will include key cities through our global retail roll out.  We will also continue to collaborate with the best retailers globally in order to increase brand awareness and expand globally.

Moose Knuckles

So, what’s the full pop-up store plan?

The European pop-ups have surfaced at the beginning of September and continue to emerge throughout the close of the year. We have just opened the Dusseldorf and Stockholm pop-ups and will continue by touching Milan, London, Amsterdam, Liverpool and Hamburg. Most of the pop-up stores will initially be operated until the end of February, and later in some cases. It’s the same deal in China where we have opened our subsidiary last year, and our investment and business continues to accelerate, both offline and online. Also, in North America, we have just opened temporary stores in key malls such as Roosevelt Field in New Jersey, King of Prussia in Philadelphia and Toronto Square One – in partnership with luxury department store Holt Renfrew. Those pop-up stores will be operated until the end of February.

How would you best describe this new strategy?

Connection and engagement are fundamental to our strategy. We are taking our brand vision on the road and as we recognise the shift in the traveling landscape. We are coming to meet our community in their local playground. Going full digital is not the solution. A balanced multi-channel strategy is our way to go. We are building authentic connections with our community evolving our language and renewing the relationship between the brand and the consumer, offering them an ‘anti-luxury’ luxury in-store experience – mixing interactive digital elements with a minimalist and luxury aesthetic.

Moose Knuckles

Are all new store locations meeting global COVID-19 safety protocols?

Just like our traditional permanent retail locations, which have all reopened, the new ones will all meet global COVID-19 safety protocols. First of all, we adapted new operational processes and policies to prioritise the safety of customers and associates. We simply had to take the new challenges and consumer needs into consideration.

How are the new pop-up stores different and ‘experiential’? 

Our pop-up locations offer shopping experiences that will amaze customers in a special ‘Moose’ way. This strategy is in line with the evolution of the brand. The new pop-ups concept, created by the Paris design office, Bureau Betak, is based on the brand’s defining features that distinguish us from our competitors and make us unique. Namely a disruptive identity and communication combined with the highest technical and quality standards. The new retail concept features a fresh layout with a combination of minimalist looks, luxury materials, captivating glowing light and interactive digital elements.

Moose Knuckles

What else makes Moose Knuckles stand out?

Moose Knuckles was born from the desire to create exceptional outerwear designed to cope with the most hostile environments. In these challenging times, admiring the power of nature and offering it the respect it deserves has never been more relevant. That said, Moose Knuckles’ unique identity is clearly irreverent, challenging codes.

What key products can we expect to see in the new stores for AW20 for men and women?

Our collections have evolved and improved impressively since the beginning. In the upcoming season we’ve added new designs, look, functions and categories. Among them is ‘Power Puff’, a brand new line for AW20, featuring contemporary reinterpretations of the puffer silhouette full of reversible, machine-washable puffers that redefine outdoor utility. Also new is the ‘Soft Shell’ line, our first eco-garments, presented for AW20 with the plan to expand that offer in 2021. They are made from 100% recyclable materials, with all metal trims. Another new category is ‘Uniques’, the brand’s more adventurous puffer line, with wool and shearling products to be featured as the season progresses.

How is the business growing and what are the real challenges Moose Knuckles will face as a business for the rest of 2020 and for 2021?

Our business curve is on track despite the challenging environment. All our channels and markets are performing well as our AW20 season takes off. Challenges are mostly related to the low predictability of the market scenario for the upcoming months. Intensity, duration, diffusion of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 will obviously all have an impact in the economy and consumption trends, which we cannot ignore.    

Moose Knuckles

What other plans does Moose Knuckles have to continue its positive drive through the coronavirus pandemic this year and into 2021?

As we roll out our plans for retail and ecommerce, we keep investing in the relationship with our best partners worldwide, which remain key to our strategy. We just opened a first shop-in-shop in collaboration with Holt Renfrew in Toronto Square One, which is to be the first step of a bigger plan to consolidate our leadership in our home market. It’s the same concept we created at Harrods in London, with our first permanent European shop-in-shop. Coming up next you will see branded moments and unique pop-up experiences being launched at Selfridges in London, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Isetan in Tokyo. In Korea, one of our biggest and most important markets, we are kicking off a plan of renovation for four of our concession stores at the Shinsegae and Lotte department stores.

How do you see the AW20 season panning out for the brand sales-wise in the UK and globally?

We are seeing very positive signs both in the UK and globally and hopefully this trend will continue for the rest of the season. People will continue living their lives and shopping within this ‘new-normal’ world. Despite the coronavirus crisis, the brand is experiencing a remarkable tailwind. From a global perspective, there have been no notable break-ins and we continue to grow our share in the market as the ultimate street-meets-luxury premium outerwear brand. At a retail level, we will continue to work with the best retailers around the world to build brand awareness and grow globally expand. We see this pop-ups strategy as an opportunity to prepare our next phase of expansion, and in 2021 we will consider to convert some of the temporary locations into permanent.

Is increased sustainability a factor going forward?

A key driver of our brand evolution is certainly to gain strength is sustainability. We have a new VP of sustainability who will make sure a new sustainable approach permeates every department in the company. In 2021, we’ll keep focusing in this direction following and implementing the novelties introduced in 2020. Our design and product team is testing innovative and renewable materials, concentrating on new and environmentally friendly opportunities while preserving highest technical and quality standards, the brand’s market position and the target audience.

Does social media play a big part in promoting and supporting your products and plans?

Connection and engagement are fundamental to the brand. The young and creative spirit is expressed in an incredible engagement in social media platforms. Building relations with customers and the way these channels are managed is an essential element of the brand’s strategy. Social media positively influences a large brand loyalty and connection with the community, the so-called ‘tribe’.

Moose Knuckles

Do you use influencers at all?

‘Influencer’ is a term we don’t like to use as it doesn’t describe our community. We’d rather prefer to say that we collaborate with talents and creatives from all over the world that can embody the brand’s DNA and that are part of our ‘tribe’. The way we collaborate with talents is centred around shared mutual passion points and reciprocal support. We support the community giving them voice, and the community  authentically communicates the brand in their unique ways. The “MKGAF one-of-a-kind jacket” charity project is our global initiative that gave visibility to 40-plus talents worldwide, while supporting local communities in need during the pandemic. We asked selected talents in New York, Milan, Paris and Los Angeles to use our white Moose Knuckles ‘Lead Rider’ jacket as their canvas, and the finished one-of-a-kind wearable artworks were available to purchase on the Moose Knuckles website. The net profits from the sales supported those who needed it the most, including the local hospitals in some of the native cities of the programme.

Will there be any special launch events for the new pop-up shop openings?

Local events are at the brand’s core approach to building local communities and engaging the ‘tribe’. We are evaluating whether to host special launch events in selected pop-ups, but only if there will be the conditions to guarantee global COVID-19 safety protocols to prioritise the safety of our guests.

How do you see the future of the fashion business in the immediate future, and the long-term of effects of the pandemic?

During tough times, consumers are looking for ways to change their buying habits, so this can be an opportunity to shine above competition if your voice stands apart from the rest when demand is back. Brands that put customers, employees and their community first, especially during this highly sensitive time, will be set up for continued success. We say do what you can to support your communities, your consumers and staff. The magic of fashion is the ability to constantly reinvent itself and positively influence. There will be space for new talents and new business models to emerge long term, which will make the fashion and luxury landscape more dynamic and interesting for young brands and creatives around the world.