Canadian parka company giving them the cold shoulder, customers say

Some customers who ordered winter jackets through a successful Canadian Kickstarter campaign feel they’re being left out in the cold.

Toronto company that launched successful crowd-funding campaign promises refund for customers

North Aware broke a fundraising record with their Smart Parka Kickstarter campaign, but some customers are upset about changes being made to the coats they ordered. (North Aware Inc./Instagram )

Some customers who ordered winter jackets through a successful Canadian crowd-funding campaign feel they're being left out in the cold, due to delays in getting the merchandise they ordered and because they feel the company has broken the promises it made.

"I think they feel duped," said New York City resident Irina Dzyubinsky in an interview with CBC News. "I feel I was promised 'A' and I'm getting 'X.'"

Earlier this year, Dzyubinski and more than 8,000 others ordered Smart Parkas from Toronto-based startup North Aware. The company broke a Canadian record with their Kickstarter campaign, earning more than $3.25-million. 

But now that the company is manufacturing its parkas in China, instead of in Canada, and is using a synthetic fibre instead of the duck down it promised, some customers feel hard done by.  

The Smart Parka, touted as "the world's first complete winter coat," features built-in gloves and and a scarf, pockets for phones and tablets and removable layers. A down-filled layer and real fur were also part of the original design.

'It's getting cold'

In March, CEO Jamil Khan told CBC News the parkas would be made in Canada if more than 7,000 got sold and promised its backers their orders would arrive in August.

Now that temperatures are dropping, orders haven't gone out and production has been moved to China. A viewer contacted CBC News and said some customers have posted their frustrations online.

"It's starting to get really cold. I want my jacket!," Paula Mussalem Correa commented on Kickstarter. 

"I'm most upset about the delay," Dzyubinski said. She pledged $600 for two Smart Parkas through Kickstarter, one for her and one for her husband who lives in Denmark. "It's getting cold. We've delayed buying any winter apparel waiting for this parka."

North Aware spokesperson Brendan Panikkar told CBC News the decision to manufacture in China came down to logistics.

"In Canada, the line would have taken two or more years to get to our backers," he said. "In China, we can make a whole line of apparel in less than a year and we wanted to get our product to our customers as quickly as possible."

In September, the company posted an update to the Kickstarter page along with pictures of the facility in China for those concerned about working conditions and quality.

'We're not Amazon'

Panikkar admitted the company over-promised on the delivery date and apologized.

"We're not Amazon," he said. "We're on Kickstarter and delays are quite common."

He explained a flood of pre-orders held-up production in China. He said customers outside Canada should start receiving their orders in the next 10-15 days. Canadian customers should receive their orders towards the middle of November.

North Aware decided to replace the duck down in an inner liner of their parkas with a synthetic microfibre, a change many are unhappy about.

"It seems that all the changes were actually downgrades in terms of cost," Marin Vulic commented on Kickstarter.

Panikkar said a lot of research has gone into the patented microfibre that has the same warmth rating as down. "We promised that any changes that we made to the coat would be for the better," He said the synthetic material is actually more expensive.

They've also removed the real fur option, after receiving a number of complaints. Any backers who ordered the coat before March 11, when the change was announced, still have the option to receive real fur.

Anyone who backed Smart Parkas on Kickstarter can get a full refund, minus the shipping and handling, within two weeks of receiving their orders, the company says. Customers who pre-ordered a coat outside of the campaign will also be issued a refund.

"We're not holding anyone's money hostage," Panikar said. "We want our customers to at least try out the coat. If they don't like it, send it back."

The fact that refunds are being offered gave some peace of mind to Dzyubinski . She said she's just tired of shivering.


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