It’s not every small business that has the luxury of pressing pause for the better part of a year to reinvent itself. But Eric Dayton is not your typical small business owner. So he closed the door on Askov Finlayson, his North Loop menswear boutique, and re-launches this week as a direct-to-consumer outerwear brand.
“The store as we knew it is not reopening,” Dayton explains. “That chapter of third-party retail is closed so we could really focus on this new chapter: doing our own products.”
Dayton put all of his team’s energies into creating what he considers the perfect parka: made with sustainable materials and built to withstand a Minnesota winter, but priced below premium competitors like Canada Goose, which can sell for $1,000 or more. The Askov Finlayson parka, available in men’s and women’s sizes, is $495. It comes in navy, green, or gold. It is now available online and the Minneapolis showroom opens to the public on Sautrday.
Dayton knows the competition—he sold similar coats in the store’s previous iteration. “They were usually the most expensive items in the store—very warm, very high end. It bothered us that guys would come in and admire the parkas, but they couldn’t afford them.”
He saw two options: make a lower-quality coat or eliminate the retail markup. Dayton decided follow in the footsteps of transformative digital-first brands like Warby Parker, Harry’s, and Away. “No one had applied the disruptive model to the outdoor clothing category.”
But undercutting the competition on price wasn’t the only objective; Dayton insisted on building a “radically sustainable” parka, in keeping with Askov Finlayson’s pledge to pay back 110 percent of its climate impact. It is the first product to use a new 100 percent recycled polyester insulation made by 3M. The jacket’s polyester outer shell and secondary twill shell are also made with 100 percent recycled materials. Same goes for the zipper teeth.
John Ly, formerly of North Face, served as lead designer on the parka, which is being manufactured “ethically and sustainably,” Dayton says, by Unico Global in Vietnam.
Dayton admits he had to “place a bet” on how many parkas to produce. The launch comes too late for a national publicity blitz—although Askov Finlayson has already gotten online attention for its coat from Fast Company. Dayton says the company has a digital marketing campaign planned for winter, but he plans to take it slow and isn’t worried about expanding the collection right now.
Locally, the pared-down Askov Finlayson showroom is packed with parkas and open daily starting Saturday. The shop still offers a selection of the North hats and apparel that put the brand on the map, and started a larger conversation about the marketing of Minnesota.
But for Askov Finlayson to succeed as an apparel brand, it will take more than North Loop foot traffic.
“if we see momentum, we’ll follow with more options,” Dayton says. “But we’re going to grow thoughtfully, and we’ll always be rooted in winter.”