Wuxly brings brand values to life with Indigenous partners

From the C-Suite newsletter: The animal-free, Canadian-made outerwear brand works with Indigenous businesses on manufacturing.

Wuxly

Long before outerwear brands like Canada Goose, Moose Knuckles and SOIA & KYO promised to phase out real fur in the face of consumer pressure to be more sustainable, Toronto-based Wuxly Movement was already touting credentials as an ethical lifestyle brand.

Since it was founded in 2014 by CEO James Yurichuk, a former professional linebacker, the outerwear brand has worked to distinguish itself through a commitment to being animal-free, using fair labour practices and maintaining a strong focus on sustainability, all while manufacturing its line of winter coats in Canada, rather than offshore.

“We saw there really wasn’t a jacket out there made for the person who wanted a Canadian-made and sustainable jacket, and something that was animal-free,” says Yurichuk. “It’s something we’re seeing a little bit more of these days, with animal-free [commitments from brands] that we’ve done right from the beginning.”

WuxlyThe company’s brand values were articulated through a rebranding effort in 2018, which included a name and logo change – from Wully Outerwear to Wuxly Movement – and a new “Live Warm” tagline that lives on to this day and encourages all Canadians to “live warm through positive choices and actions.”

In June, the company took another step towards solidifying its commitments to supporting people, becoming a member of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB), an industry group that works to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and businesses, following a months-long process first initiated in April.

While Wuxly has worked with Indigenous suppliers and businesses for years, as part of what Yurichuk describes as “our duties of reconciliation,” the CEO says it recently became a greater priority over the last year and especially since the discoveries of unmarked graves at former Residential Schools across the country.

“We’re listening and trying to educate ourselves, and we’re trying to do better as Canadian citizens and corporate citizens,” Yurichuk says.

As an example of the way it supports Indigenous businesses, in February 2020, Wuxly partnered with Warrior Supplies, the PPE division of a First Nations management and training business known as Superior Strategies, to help manufacture PPE for communities in need through a Wuxly production contract awarded by the government.

Through providing training and equipment, Wuxly helped set up PPE manufacturing on a reserve near Thunder Bay, with operations now fully run by Warrior Supplies, according to director of communications Sarah Baines, who also leads Wuxly’s Indigenous relations.

“We’re currently working on other developments for transferable skills with them,” Baines says. “But this was one way we could start quickly and get them up to speed and trained and doing everything, from the testing right through to the packaging. So they’re fully self-sufficient and it was all set up through us and our partners.”

At the moment, Baines notes the work is limited to traditional cut and sew manufacturing. But in the future, it hopes to grow into automation and even help Warrior Supplies move its own production of workwear back to Canada from overseas. It’s currently working on training programs to support and facilitate that move.

Wuxly-Spotlight OnWhile membership in the CCAB will help Wuxly identify other Indigenous businesses to work with in the future, its partnership with Warrior Supplies came through its own relationship building, for which communication and trust are key, says Baines.

“It’s not going in with an agenda and a development opportunity. It’s seeking the First Nation community, learning about their culture, and their skill sets, and then how you can support their growth for the development that they want to do,” says Baines.

To date, outside of a couple of social posts, the brand has avoided heavily marketing the work it does with Indigenous communities. But Baines says it plans to make it a bigger part of its communications going forward, whether it’s including more Indigenous influencers and artists in its assets or showcasing the work it does on the manufacturing side.

Already, the brand has been an outspoken advocate on a number of social issues, and it works to include more people from underrepresented groups, through efforts ranging from a “spotlight” series on Instagram (showcasing various changemakers, such as Indigenous environmental activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo) to a collaboration with three Toronto artists for Black History Month in February.

“The purpose of doing it is not to differentiate, but to show a position of leadership and hopefully encourage other brands and other companies to follow,” says Yurichuk.