Canadian Cool: Illbury and Goose putting the hip back in the Great White North

by Jason Winders

Everybody has that story – that time at a cottage, that time at the beach, that time where waves lapped at your toes while a bonfire warmed your back. Meghan Kraft and Daniel Phillips want you to remember those times every time you think of their brand.

 “We want to be a Canadian heritage brand, a lifestyle brand meant for every Canadian,” Kraft said. “People want to be proud to be Canadian, but they don’t want a tacky T-shirt to do it in. We have given them that opportunity to be cool and hip and trendy and socially responsible – all things Canadians are.”

Kraft, BSc’14 (Animal Behaviour), along with Phillips, a Fanshawe College graphic design graduate, are the creators of Illbury and Goose, a Canadian clothing and lifestyle company.

Today, the company is gaining attention not only for its style, but for its commitment to produce clothing, accessories and apothecary items for Canadian in Canada, all toward a mission of taking the definition of Canadian beyond “campfires and dogsleds.”

And it all started a handful of years ago with a couple of T-shirts.

In 2012, a gap in the “cool, unique products for guys” space led Phillips to design their first handful of shirts – one design showing a skull among geometric shapes, another bombers dropping wasps from their bays. They were cool, but perhaps not as deep as some thought.

“People thought we were sending this huge, huge political message,” Phillips laughed. “Honestly, we just thought they looked cool. I really just wanted a shirt with a skeleton on it.”

And so did a lot of other people.

The company – then known as dpms (Dan Phillips Media Studio) – was a face-to-face business from the start. It grew thanks to hustle and chutzpa.

Customers connected with them over a rented table at the Western Fair Farmers and Crafts Market or countless summer festivals across the region. Strangers came by the pair’s apartment to pick up orders. They sold beaded bracelets straight off their wrists in bars around town.

“We pretty much traveled anywhere where we could influence people in short time spurts. It was such a cool thing. We got to test market our product in this really organic way,” Kraft said. “We never forced it; there was no plan. We did something, people liked it and we decided to keep doing that.”

As the company grew in popularity, so did the product line – hats, leather goods, even personal care and apothecary items.

The breakthrough came when they were recruited into Biz Inc. (now Propel), Western’s business accelerator, and opened a popup store in the basement of the University Community Centre in November 2012. “That was the most inspirational, most important thing that ever happened to me at Western,” Kraft said.

The following academic year, she deepened her connection to Biz Inc. She lived there in many ways, using the space to study and work on the business. Today, Kraft credits John Pollock, former Director of Biz Inc., for the company’s biggest push.

“Our business would not be the same without him. He really started pushing us to figure out who we were, what we wanted to do,” she said of the man she still calls “one of my greatest mentors.” “We were forced to write our business plan, create some goals and really figure out our company’s values. We didn’t know any of that going in because it was an experiment until then.

“All of the pieces started connecting together at that point.”

In 2014, Kraft and Phillips won the Seed Your Startup competition and used the prize money to incorporate the business. With incorporation came a name change as the dpms name was shared with an American gun manufacturer.

Enter Illbury and Goose, a name honouring businesses run by their grandparents, Illbury Furs in Woodstock, Ont., and The Country Goose in Strathroy, Ont.

“We feel it is a really, strong Canadian heritage name. I feel like it could be comparable to Abercrombie and Fitch. It sounds so Canadian; the history behind the brand is unbelievable. That has led us to what Illbury and Goose is,” Kraft said.

Today, the company continues to sell via its website, illburyandgoose.com, and now boasts two physical locations, one opened at 884 Dundas Street in London in August 2015, a second on Queen Street West in Toronto in August 2016.

The signature product is its logo, a maple leaf fused to the top of an anchor. Not only is it the top-selling item, but it ‘anchors’ the company’s brand story better than any other single item.

“We get to hear these amazing stories from our customers wearing the brand around the world,” Kraft said. “It is absolutely crazy. We were selling T-shirts in a park and from our house, and four years later, we have all this.”

This article appeared in the Fall2016 edition of Western University’s Alumni Gazette. Reprinted with permission.