Spencer Orr (HBOR’02) launches himself into new experiences with wholehearted abandon – like racing down the main street of Anchorage, Alaska, with a herd of reindeer on his
In March 2014, Spencer – the merchandising and product strategy vice-president of the iconic outerwear company Canada Goose – was in Alaska for the start of the Iditarod dog sled race. He’d travelled there with chief brand officer Kevin Spreekmeester to cheer on Lance Mackey, a four-time Iditarod winner and Goose Person (the term the company uses to describe its
ambassadors). While the two execs were having lunch, a fellow diner mentioned that the annual running of the reindeer was happening that afternoon. “Spencer turned to me,”
Kevin recalls, “and said, ’Buddy, we’re in.’”
Adventure seeking came early to Spencer. His father was the superintendent of Terra Nova National Park on the east coast of Newfoundland. “We lived in the park until I was 10,” Spencer says, “and it gave me access to back country camping, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even scuba diving.”
His enthusiasm for outdoor life extended into equipment and clothing. “As a kid, I’d go to bed
every night with a stack of Mountain Equipment Co-op and other outerwear catalogues, reviewing hiking boots in my mind.” Spencer’s affinity for nature led him to study marine biology at Dalhousie University, but he changed course when he got a summer job
up in Muskoka. “I met a Lakehead University student who wouldn’t stop bragging about his outdoor recreation program,” he says. “I realized then and there that outdoor rec could be a
great stepping stone for me.”
By that August, Spencer was officially a Lakehead student on the Thunder Bay campus. “For the first couple of months I was pinching myself because I was able to take a biology-heavy course load which merged all my passions.”
Being in outdoor rec also brought camaraderie. “We were very tight. You saw other rec’ers no matter where you went – social events, the local climbing crag, mountain biking trails,” he says. “We were easy to spot – you just picked out the guy or girl wearing Birkenstocks and a
Spencer’s time at Lakehead was momentous for another reason. He met his future wife Jenny Brown in 2001 at a party after his third-year canoe trip. Jenny, who was a genetics/ anthropology student and varsity wrestler, was immediately drawn to Spencer’s dynamism. “On one of our first dates,” Jenny says, “he took me rock climbing, which I’d never done before – then we started mountain biking, canoeing, and snowboarding together.”
By his fourth year, Spencer was holding down jobs at a local restaurant, a bar, and a Sierra Designs store called the Trip Outdoors. He saw this retail position as a way to advance his career.
“I remember asking in my interview about the likelihood of moving up from the sales floor to head office. The store owner looked at me and said, ‘You’re taking a part-time minimum wage job. Are you sure you want to take that kind of risk?’” He did, and when a Sierra Designs product manager came to the store, Spencer was prepared. “I’d become a high-performing salesperson, so I was able to pull him aside and give my elevator speech. I said, ‘The pocket angle doesn’t work on this jacket and this cuff doesn’t make any sense, and have you thought about this?’”
The manager agreed to meet with Spencer who flew to Sierra’s head office in Toronto on a Friday. On Sunday evening, his new mentor emailed Spencer a Corel Draw software program – which he’d never used before – and told Spencer to deliver original designs to his inbox by Tuesday morning. Spencer knuckled down and came up with 27 designs that showed enough raw potential to get him hired on a trial basis.
Eventually, Spencer convinced Sierra Designs to hire him full time and he and Jenny loaded up a U-Haul and moved to Toronto. He became a Sierra product coordinator and Jenny landed a job at the Hospital for Sick Children laboratory where she is currently a genetic technologist. The couple now have two young daughters who are just as active as their parents. The family heads out of the city every weekend to go camping, cycling, and bouldering in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Spencer’s next big break in the outerwear world happened a few years later when his mentor moved to a different company two weeks before a major sales conference. “My boss looked around and said ‘Who’s going to present the line?’ I put my hand up and my boss whispered to the guy next to him, ‘Who is that?’” Spencer ended up giving a four-hour presentation to international reps and when he stepped off the stage, he was offered the product manager
By 2009 Spencer was running the entire apparel division for Sierra Designs and was ready to venture out in a new direction. He applied to Canada Goose, a third-generation family business founded in 1957. The company has established a reputation for putting function and quality first. “We keep our promise to protect people from the elements whether it’s rain, wind, or snow,” says Spencer, “as well as make sure that they look good wearing them.”
Canada Goose is worn by everybody from research scientists in Antarctica to fashionable New Yorkers to extreme athletes (famous mountaineer Laurie Skreslet was sporting a Canada Goose parka when he became the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest in 1982). Their jackets have become the standard uniform of movie crews who need to stay warm in frigid conditions. Oversized pockets and speciallydesigned features for storing gear and cables means that crews don’t have to tote around heavy backpacks anymore. Well-known actors and celebrities such as Daniel Craig and Emma Stone have also taken a shine to Goose parkas, both on and off set.
This popularity has fuelled the company’s expansion over the pastfew years. It has factories throughout Canada, offices in New York and Paris, and sells its products in nearly 40 different countries. This meteoric ascent is paralleled by Spencer’s own rise through the ranks of Canada Goose. He started out as a product manager, was promoted to director of design and merchandising and then vice president design and merchandising. In 2016 he became
the vice president of merchandising and product strategy overseeing a team of 12 people. He has found his home. “Our CEO Dani Reiss says, ‘If you find the right job, you don’t work a day in your life.’ And I love it here,” Spencer says. “It feels like family.”
“Spencer eats, sleeps, and breathes Canada Goose,” Jenny says. “He’s been great for the company and the company has been great for us.” Chief brand officer Kevin Spreekmeester
agrees. “Spencer is focused on evolving products to make them more
comfortable and he’s made a real impact by introducing our HyBridge Lite jacket.” The jacket won Outdoor Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award and opened the doors for Canada Goose in the lightweight category.
Spencer is continuing this push to help the company transition into a three-season brand: fall, winter, and spring. He has been intimately involved in the design process of garments – from concept all the way through development, product engineering, and compliance. “I’m always asking, ‘Is it possible that this is not a best-in-class product?’”
The nature of his job means that Spencer criss-crosses the globe on a regular basis.
He has seen all of Asia and Europe, keeping his finger on the pulse of the outerwear industry. He’s at tradeshows, fashion shows, and retail stores as well as at the mills where yarn is made and the dye houses where fabrics are coloured.
But one travel experience stands above all the others. In 2015, Spencer journeyed to the North Pole to conduct field tests on Canada Goose gear – he wanted to see for himself how they stood up to the harshest of conditions. He made the voyage with a handful of scientists and a group of adventure tourists. They landed in Svalbard, a northern island well above Norway before transferring to a rusted and creaking airplane that flew to a Russian base camp located in the middle of a floating ice field. The only structures were two giant heated plastic tents for sleeping, a dining tent, and a homemade sauna. “One tourist dressed up as Santa Claus and a couple got remarried,” Spencer says. “It was like an arctic Las Vegas.”
Although Spencer revelled in the craziness of it all, he says that the best part was being able to walk away from the chaos and “into the wind and the cold to find the empty spaces and solitude I was seeking.” It was an impulse that marked Spencer as an outdoor rec’er at heart – and one who we are proud to count as a Lakehead grad.