IN THE KNOW with Gavin Rich of Tough Duck
Tough Duck was founded in Winnipeg in 1939 by 5th generation clothier Abraham Rich. Abe was a young fabric cutter, new to Canada and working at a pant factory. One day, Abraham asked his boss for a 10 cents/hour raise. Instead of a raise, Abe was fired, and “Winnipeg Pants and Sportswear” was born.
From manufacturing wool work pants in the 40’s, to their signature “Abraham Hydro Parka” - worn by generations of Hydro Workers who built the infrastructure of Canada, Tough Duck’s roots lie in hard work, family values, and getting the job done.
Work to Live, Live to Play is Tough Duck’s message today. Flannels-quilt lined, or Sherpa lined for men and women, the Moto vest, the iconic quilted “freezer jackets”, headwear, gloves and footwear and the new Elevated Workwear Line- Tough Duck Black Label-round out a full assortment rooted in workwear, but speaks to the discerning consumer looking for comfort, fit and the authentic, real thing.
Hey Gavin! How are you doing?
Hey! Awesome, thank-you. Recently have started travelling again, and it has been so life giving! Great to see customers, suppliers and friends in person instead of on a screen. Nothing beats “eyeball to eyeball”, and especially touching and feeling product.
I hear you! For those that are not aware, what is Tough Duck and how long have you guys been around?
Tough Duck, formerly called Richlu, is a Work, Safety and Lifestyle clothing company. Our head office is in the Exchange District in Downtown Winnipeg. The company was founded by my Grandfather in 1939. Our roots lie in cold weather, durable workwear made of canvas material, known in the industry as “Duck”-hence Tough Duck! The brand has since evolved into many fabrics, finishes and styles, and is a head to toe apparel/footwear line for Work and Play.
Over the recent years, our crossover styles like our quilted “Freezer Jacket” looks, lined flannels, canvas shirts and jackets, hoodies and the Moto vest have become more popular outside of the farm store or worksite, and is making its way into main street stores, the suburbs, and the mall.
Can you tell us more about the last 18 months or so at Tough Duck? How has the pandemic challenged your business?
Thank goodness everyone in our company has remained safe and healthy.
The pandemic showed us who we are as a company, and what it means when you say “family values”, and put your money where your mouth is. In March of 2020- I think the exact date was March 16th-we made a very tough decision to not cancel any of our production, we kept our commitments. I wish I could say how brilliant we were at the time, but we did it because of our loyalty to our suppliers. We did not want to re-neg on commitments. So this decision kept our supply chain moving today, and we are in a better inventory positon than most.
This inventory position has opened up so many new opportunities for us to grow Tough Duck to a wider audience and get more people to try it out side of the workwear space.
On the HR/company front, we pride ourselves on our culture, but the pandemic tested us. We kept our staff intact, paid our staff to quarantine if required, no questions asked, learned how many of our staff are caregivers and we offered the flexibility they needed. We will for sure be taking this approach into the post pandemic world.
So much has already been said about the Pandemic’s effect on retail and our society, so nothing new here. But the biggest thing I understand is the pandemic acted as a catalyst to a trend- for example, e-com was going to increase over time, but the pandemic accelerated the trend. Same with video calling.Electronic means are great tools, but you need an “Omni Channel” approach to all aspects, human and electronic working together.
Last year Tough Duck launched a ‘Black Label’ line, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Tough Duck Black Label is Elevated Workwear, all Union Made in Canada in our downtown Winnipeg factory. The line is 100% Animal Free, and uses the finest European Fabrics and finishes. We incorporate subtle reflective elements to add an urban safety element, which speaks to our roots. Tough Duck Black features Prima Loft Gold, Prima Loft Black, and Therma Plume Black insulation for incredible warmth and lightness.
It’s incredible to see the elasticity Tough Duck has, that we have permission to succeed on this space.
Tough Duck Black Label Fall 22 will be at The Know Show, can hardly wait to show it!
How did you discover KNOWSHOW? What is it about the show that keeps you coming back?
We are relatively new to Know Show, having started in January 2019. I had been aware of it for some time, but finally decided we were” ready”. For us, this was a big jump into a new space- a jump I wished we made sooner.
The first show was really successful, and we have enjoyed meeting more people –both fellow suppliers and customers- ever since.
The Know Show is a true “writing show”- people come to write orders, make commitments. That is rare today.
What are you most looking forward to about a return to in-person events?
I have a “Zoom” headache from the past 18 months that has not gone away, I am sure I am not the only one! Screens are great tools, but nothing replaces human contact. We are social beings, and need meaningful connections.
As I mentioned, nothing beats trying on clothing- touching, feeling and experiencing the piece in real life, as Tough Duck is meant to be worn IRL.
What’s next for Tough Duck?
Keep up our growth momentum. Keep designing great apparel- we just introduced almost 40 new products for 2022. We will double down on our efforts to serve our customers. Make sure we learn the lessons COVID taught us. Continue to stay real and rooted.
Thanks for taking the time to chat! We’re looking forward to having you back at the Fall/Winter KNOWSHOW next January, see you there!