Written by Andrew Seale

If there’s a definitive marker of Canadianness, maple syrup should probably sit lower on the list than owning an entire stable of winter coats. We’re serious about our winter, and we’re even more serious about our winter wear. 

“We have a closet of outerwear for snow, rain, negative five degrees, negative 10, negative 15, negative 20… and every morning we go out there and we select the best article for that particular day,” says Simon Au, co-founder of UNOO, a Toronto outerwear startup. UNOO aims to help Canadians trim down their wardrobe with its urban style, premium heated apparel, the kind of lightweight coat you can just as easily wear in negative 20-degree weather or throw on to wear in the car on the way to work. “That's why we put this innovative heating element into our jackets.”

He calls it a coat for all three seasons – a volatility of weather Torontonians are well-acquainted with given that it dominates our days for eight months of the year. Au co-founded the Canadian designed and engineered microbrand alongside Weitao Shen.  

The startup says it’s inspired as much by Canadian outerwear success stories like Moose Knuckles, Canada Goose, and NOBIS, as it is by the heated workwear often used by outdoor enthusiasts and workers. 

“Heated apparel is definitely not a new thing,” says Au. “If you go online right now, across the board there are established players – but the jackets are primarily made for hunting and ice fishing.”

To make something fashionable and functional, UNOO had to redesign the heating element. “Our heating temperature is a little bit higher than normal but we also want to make it compatible with generic batteries,” explains Au. 

The company also did away with the rigid pads you’d find in heated workwear, instead of creating something that wouldn’t be bulky when you’re sitting down or on the go. It took about two years to bring its coat to market (the first orders ship in January, just in time for deep winter). 

“It would be a lot easier to create a utility jacket that we can sell at Home Depot because that audience understands what we're trying to do,” says Au, but that wasn’t the market they wanted to target. They’re also not necessarily looking to compete with the massive brand equity already banked by Canadians well-known outerwear incumbents. Instead, he says, UNOO’s jackets are for people who just want to go to work and look good and not have to sift through a closet of outerwear. “That's what we're trying to fill.”

Toronto and Canada, in general, is a perfect test-bed for the coats, says Au. But he’s not ruling out chasing winter around the world with his value proposition given that UNOO has taken an e-commerce focus to sales. 

“Later in 2020, our goal is to launch the new line for the Christmas season using new insulation,” he says. The aim is to use vegan, environmentally-conscientious materials. But in the meantime, Au has his fingers crossed for something most Canadians wouldn’t get behind: “We just hope winter is going to be long in Canada.”

Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com