Pivot to Parkas
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 reopened in November 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.
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 admire the parkas but couldn’t afford them.”
He saw two options: make a lower-quality coat or eliminate the retail markup. Dayton decided to follow in the footsteps of transformative digital-first brands 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 his 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 made with 100 percent recycled materials, as are the zipper teeth.
John Lee, 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; for Askov Finlayson to succeed as an apparel brand, it will take more than North Loop foot traffic and one product. Dayton says the company has a digital marketing campaign planned for winter, and “if we see momentum, we’ll follow with more options,” he says. “But we’re going to grow thoughtfully, and we’ll always be rooted in winter.” —Allison Kaplan