Great interview – Bertrand Cesvet, buyer of Kanuk | Kanuk sets out to conquer the world

Great interview – Bertrand Cesvet, buyer of Kanuk | Kanuk sets out to conquer the world
Great interview – Bertrand Cesvet, buyer of Kanuk | Kanuk sets out to conquer the world

A brand builder, as he defines himself, Bertrand Cesvet helped to promote major international groups such as Cirque du Soleil, Adidas and Absolut Vodka when he was CEO of the multidisciplinary creative agency Sid Lee, which he co-founded. . Today, he has just bought the high-end winter coat manufacturer Kanuk and now wants to promote this iconic Quebec brand on a global scale.

Posted at 1:25 a.m.

Updated at 6:00 a.m.

Kanuk coats have been making their home in Quebec for 40 years and the company even attempted a breakthrough in the United States with the opening of a store in New York, which was, however, quickly closed. For five years, the brand has suffered from COVID-19 and also from its over-identification with the harsh Quebec winters of yesteryear.

“When the Champlain Group bought Kanuk from its founder in 2015, Quebec recorded days at -35 degrees that winter. That was the last time.

“Our coats are no longer adapted to temperature changes, they are too hot, too big. We are now going to manufacture coats for all four seasons and we are going to position Kanuk internationally,” Bertrand Cesvet explains to me, in the showroom of the factory store on rue Rachel.

The former CEO of Sid Lee, who left the creative agency in 2020 after selling it to a Japanese group in 2015, joined forces with two partners, Alan Brandman and Jacques Bohobt, to invest two years ago years in the Psycho Bunny brand, a men’s clothing manufacturer.

Four years ago, Psycho Bunny had sales of 20 million, today we have more than 100 stores of our own and 50 franchise stores in Japan and Latin America. We have a model that works and that we want to reproduce with Kanuk.

Bertrand Cesvet

Bertrand Cesvet observes that for years he has contributed to the commercial reputation of companies, whether Cirque du Soleil or Adidas, and that he now wants to do so for his own projects.

“I am a brand builder, and Kanuk is a great brand that can be exported, but we will have to create more volume. This is what allowed Canada Goose to export its coats around the world.

“We will have to review the Kanuk model and its supply chain. With Psycho Bunny, we developed contacts with fabric manufacturers in Peru and elsewhere. We will continue to make our winter coats, but we will integrate new lighter models, with down, short coats, raincoats…”, specifies Bertrand Cesvet.

Declining sales

When the Champlain Group acquired Kanuk, the company was recording annual sales of 10 million, which rose to 15 million in 2019, before the pandemic. Since 2020, sales have fallen to 8 million.

“We took over the company because we have the know-how to transform it. We are giving ourselves a year of transition and in 2026, we will have our new product ranges,” explains the buyer, who will have the title of executive creative director.

He and a small team are currently in Italy to visit stores and suppliers and take the pulse of the market.

Kanuk is not a big operation in itself as there are around twenty people at the head office and store on rue Rachel and around forty seamstresses who come to assemble the coats from June to October, bothe and 3e floors of the building.

“We want to do more volume and produce year-round. The head office will always remain in Montreal, but we will also subcontract manufacturing elsewhere. Our role is to create the most beautiful products that will identify the Kanuk brand all over the world. We are going to be industrialists of creativity,” predicts Bertrand Cesvet.

Once again, he wants to replicate the success of Psycho Bunny, which today employs 200 people at its Montreal head office and who contribute to the brand’s global reach.

We want to open Kanuk stores. We have more than 60 leases with Simon Property Group, the largest shopping center operator in the United States. There, what we do is craftsmanship, we want to bring the company to the stage of global player.

Bertrand Cesvet

When he left Sid Lee in 2020, Bertrand Cesvet played golf and tennis for six months, only to realize that this was not the life he wanted to lead. He started looking for companies where he could not just invest, but also invest himself.

“I wanted to be an active investor. I was initially an economist with an MBA from McGill until I moved into multidisciplinary design and became responsible for the global image of Adidas.

“When Sid Lee was acquired in 2015, my role as CEO for the Japanese group was to carry out mergers and acquisitions of creative firms. So today, I combine a bit of all my past experiences,” observes Bertrand Cesvet.



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