A secret project, 14 Inuit seamstresses, and a now-fashionable parka company – those are the basic elements of a revelation that wowed Nunavut, New York City, and the world Jan. 31.
Iqaluit's Marlene Watson was asked to join Project Atigi, Canada Goose's "new social entrepreneurship project for Canada's North," in spring 2018, while Mishael Gordon, who lives in Iqaluit but comes from Rankin Inlet, was approached in the fall.
"I had to think about it," said Watson. "I was nervous to do this project, because I didn't know what it was really about in the beginning. When I understood what was going to happen, I ended up really excited to do the project with them."
Gordon says when the vision of the project was explained to her, she agreed to take part.
"They really wanted to keep the project on the down-low. They really wanted to surprise the world with our creations," said Gordon. "It was incredibly difficult. I hate being so secretive, because I was so excited about it. I just wanted to tell the world."
But she was able to tell her closest friends, husband and mother, and it helped that Watson is an Apex neighbour.
For Watson, who also created Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's parka, keeping the secret was hard.
"But I had to stay quiet so I kept quiet for a long time," she said.
Canada Goose declined an interview with Nunavut News; however, president and chief executive officer Dani Reiss has stated in a news release and elsewhere that Project Atigi is a "social responsibility," much like its Resource Centre Program. That program was established in 2009.
"We have proudly delivered materials to more than 10 Northern communities, donating fabric, lining, buttons, zippers and trims several times a year, with all materials transported by First Air, free of charge," according to the company's website.
Reiss stated, "Canada Goose was built in the North and we have a responsibility to be a meaningful part of the community that we call home."
Each of the 14 seamstresses received those same recognizable materials to create their one-of-a-kind pieces for Project Atigi, though Watson needed more for her ulu-embellished amauti.
"I thought about it for a while – they told me I could make whatever I want, for man, woman or child. I thought about this long and hard, and decided to go with the traditional amauti," said Watson.
Meanwhile, Gordon settled on a child's parka.
"They just said, 'Let your artistic seamstress shine through and do whatever you want.' I prefer to sew for men or children, because they're not as picky as most women are. They tend to be less difficult to sew for," Gordon said, laughing.
She based her design on a coat she'd worn as a child.
Both Watson and Gordon said it was clear from the beginning of their involvement their designs were protected.
"That was my number one question," said Watson. "'You're not going to duplicate my pattern or my design?' and they said, 'No, it's not going to be duplicated at all.'"
In one report about the launch in New York City Jan. 31, which Watson and Gordon attended, Reiss is quoted.
"We don't want to appropriate anyone's history or experience or heritage. It's about using our platform. What's really powerful here is that we can create a bigger demand for these products and create opportunities for Inuit people to make these products and sell them. The dream would be to create a marketplace that's bigger than 14 jackets," he reportedly said.
In fact, both Watson and Gordon are receiving much attention on social media, and they are being contacted for orders.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) president Natan Obed also attended the unveiling of Project Atigi, and reportedly gave an "impassioned speech about the impact of this project." All sales from the project pieces – each item is priced between $5,000 and $7,500 – will go to ITK to be returned to communities.
Iqaluit's own The Jerry Cans performed.
The New York City launch was a fantastic time for both seamstresses, though, unfortunately, not all 14 were able to make it.
"I wish I had met all the seamstresses," said Watson. "But not everybody could make it to New York or here (for filming the video). But even though there were only five of us, that was amazing, getting to know each other," said Watson.
"It was so much fun. We had such a great time. It was a really amazing experience. The whole Canada Goose crew were so good to us. They kept as much of the production under wraps from us as possible because they wanted it to be a surprise for us, as well," said Gordon.
"The video, the bio, the pictures, we hadn't seen any of that. It was emotional. We were so proud of each other. I could just cry right now. I was so proud of all the seamstresses for being part of the project, because we're not just showcasing to Inuit, or Canada … It's to the world."