As Paris lockdown ends, Nobis opens a boutique, and co-founder Robin Yates recounts why
Remarkably, on the day that the second lockdown in Paris ends, November 28 and clothing stores can finally open, Canada’s Nobis will debut a brand new store in Paris.
The 100-square-meter space will greet its first customers on Saturday. An airy boutique located in a neo-classical corner building at 2 rue des Petits Pères, it is just 50 meters from one of the city’s most beautiful squares, Place des Victoires.
It’s a cool, minimalist space by design firm Boa Design, created to highlight the performance-driven esthetic of Nobis, with a techy icosahedron desk and blond wooden walls, the better to host the mono-color posh futurism of the sturdy-yet-stylish puffers of Nobis. All of which feature special membrane lamination; repellent coating and premium white duck down insulation.
The store will also feature its new collaboration with Serge Ibaka, the NBA champion and master blocker for the Toronto Raptors, who has created a limited-edition, genderless collection that includes parka, anorak, bomber jacket, vests, hats and scarves.
So, after multiple fashion stores had shuttered in Paris and throughout the world during the pandemic, FashionNetwork.com caught up with one individual who is bucking that trend, to hear from Nobis co-founder and Managing Director Robin Yates how he has managed to defy the global downturn. An alumni of Canada Goose, Yates help found Nobis in 2007, convinced that consumers wanted a new look lighter outerwear brand that underlined polished practicality. He explains why he is so optimistic for the future.
FashionNetwork.com: Why are you opening in Paris?
Robin Yates: I think it’s the dream of any upcoming fashion brand to find a place in Paris. And that’s why we have opened in an area that’s part of the fashion scene.
FNW: Why in this particular location?
RY: Well, we have tried different pop ups in Paris, like in the Marais. But we feel this area is really right. It’s close to the old financial center, the Paris Bourse, and it’s an area on the move. One that will continue to attract tourism and be a very cool district. I’d call it a renaissance area. I have two young sons – two and half to six and half - and we have talked about the idea of moving to Paris. And if we ever did that, this is the neighborhood we would target to live in as well. Yes, there are other great areas for boutiques in Paris, but they are not so entrance friendly and have not so many opportunities for the right space.
FNW: Define the DNA of Nobis?
RY: At its core is a marriage of functional and fashion. In my previous career (Canada Goose) it was an exercise in smoke and mirrors and marketing. I want to sleep well at night and that means I want to exceed customers’ expectations. So, we are determined that Nobis be the best product available. Not just the same old parka. Our jackets may cost two to three time as much as competitors. But they really are the best ROI (return on investment) in the category.
FNW: What are your core values?
RY: Our community is built on quality and style and quality. We don’t want to be a reactive brand. We are new heritage. So all our jackets have the best membrane laminations possible. They are windproof; waterproof and truly breathable.
FNW: You came from a successful career at Canada Goose. How does Nobis differ from that marque?
RY: I’d say we don’t take our consumers for granted and always strive to be better. We strive to make them our ambassadors.
FNW: Tell us about your own career?
RY: I was a not very good hockey player, a better pugilist than goal-scorer. I got into the jewelry business afterwards, which was very high end. Then moved over to help resurrect Canada Goose when Dani Reiss took up the reins after his parents.
FNW: How big a business is Nobis?
RY: As a private company we don’t say, but we are almost broaching 150,000 units sold a year.
FNW: How many stores and sales points worldwide?
RY: Eight months ago I could have given you a very accurate figure. But with all the attrition it’s harder to be precise. I can say that we have two flagships in Toronto and one in Paris, and have around 33 shop-in-shops in South Korea. Then, if you add up all the wholesale accounts, big boutiques, multi-brands and pop-ups, I’d say we retail in around 1,200 points of sale, in 37 countries.
FNW: What is your strategy in terms of sustainability?
RY: I believe we have an excellent blueprint and mapping. We didn’t always look for the highest volume sales; and wanted responsibility with quality. Several years ago, we started to map out our sustainability, and were happy to discover that 70% was already fine in terms of certification right away. We use truly great down, a by-product of the poultry industry. We use fur which is fully natural. We understand not everyone agrees with fur, but by definition it is a renewable resource. And we are a Canadian brand. Fur collars are an insulation product to protect your face in real cold. Though we are a true lifestyle brand and not just an artic wear company. We have also started using more non-blended applications, as some off them cannot be recycled as they cannot be separated. So most of what we make is recoverable. And we try to repurpose our garments. In fact, they are so well made they go in any fashion cycle.
FNW: Why are you working with Serge Ibaka?
RY: That’s our celebration with a fashion-forward athlete. Serge has great, unique style. But the true measure of this collection is whether it becomes something a friend recommends - a word of mouth product. Not just the latest thing. As it happens, one of our managers had worked with Serge’s manager, and we discussed potential possibilities when both of us were about to take off. Serge is really committed. We even had seven design meetings with him, which if you know the schedule of an NBA superstar is pretty difficult!
FNW: Where do you see Nobis in 10 years?
RY: I hope I can still see by then! In the next few years, we want to have fun with our community and support them. Like last April, when we donated all our online sales to frontline health workers. Yes, we have taken some hits this year, like everyone. But I feel we are well-positioned to grow significantly, and grow our market share. And I believe that we will also be among the first two or three outerwear brands in the world.
FNW: Might you sell the brand; could that be an exit strategy?
RY: Never say never but that is not in our vision and plans. We really want a legacy brand and a chance for our next generation to reimagine it. Though, I am not a vicarious parent, I hope. We are about to go into China in a joint venture and we could imagine selling a minority percentage so we could grow faster with a strategic partner. That is possible.
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