How Argos' LB James Yurichuk became a successful animal-free coat entrepreneur

Andrew Bucholtz
Toronto Argonaut's James Yurichuk holds the Veterans' award during the CFL awards at the CFL's 102nd Grey Cup week in Vancouver, British Columbia, November 27, 2014. The Hamilton Tiger Cats will play the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday November 30 for the Canadian football league championship title. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Plenty of CFL players have found success in the business world in the past, starting everything from burger chains to Tex-Mex grills to blacksmith shops to sports equipment chains, but Toronto Argonauts' linebacker James Yurichuk's idea particularly stands out and perhaps provides a glimpse into a new world of CFL entrepreneurship. Yurichuk is the co-founder of Mammoth Outerwear, a new Canadian company that's making warm jackets without any animal fur or down. He co-founded the company with Toronto tailor Anthony DeBartolo, and they've created four different jacket styles and worked to set up a manufacturing process for them. They took to Kickstarter to fund these, and the results have been phenomenal; they've already blown past their $50,000 Canadian goal, sitting at over $55,964 Canadian as of Thursday afternoon with 20 days still left to go. In a phone interview this week, Brampton, Ontario native Yurichuk said he was inspired to come up with a fur-free warm winter jacket when he returned to Toronto after the 2012 CFL season.

"I was away at university in Quebec (Bishop's) during the winter and then played in B.C. for the Lions for four years," he said. "When I finally came back to Toronto in 2012, I noticed fur had made a sneaky comeback on the streets. Everyone was wearing their Canada Goose jacket. And you know, I know that most people out there watched 101 Dalmatians one day and said they'd never wear fur again, but they seemed to have snuck it into our winter parkas, and I wanted to do something about that."

Yurichuk said they considered a traditional retail model for these jackets as well, but felt Kickstarter worked better as a way to get the story out, make it clear what was different about their product, and engage with their supporters.

"We felt like we could put the jackets out there in retailers, but we were afraid our story wouldn't be told," he said. "Going to the Kickstarter platform, it kind of gets everyone to engage with our Kickstarter video, which really puts the state of our brand on display, and it allows us to connect directly with customers for our initial season. ...We really wanted to do a campaign that really motivated people to get involved, and we've done that with what we call the #MammothMovement to keep all our jackets animal-free and made in Canada, and social media's really responded for us and brought this product to life."

Here's the Kickstarter video:

Yurichuk said the jackets are specially designed to provide tons of warmth without any actual goose down. Here's what their Kickstarter page says about how the jackets are insulated:

We are often asked how we can keep people warm without the use of animals. The answer is our PrimaLoft Gold insulation. For those spending time in the worst cold and wet weather conditions possible, or those looking for the pinnacle of comfort and performance should look no further than PrimaLoft Gold Insulation – the highest performing animal free insulation available. The ultimate in warmth-to-weight available in a synthetic is coupled with incredible packability and softness that mimics goose down. Microfibers trap body heat to make this the most thermally-efficient synthetic insulation available, with water-repellency that insulates even in the wettest weather – maintaining 98% of warmth when wet.

Yurichuk said this kind of insulation has proven to be succesful in the toughest possible conditions, and it works better than down when you're active.

"What sold me is that the hydro workers in Quebec were preferring this over the goose down when they're working on the hydro lines, 20 meters in the air for three to four hours at a time," he said. "If you ever sweat in your jacket, a goose-down jacket loses all heat-retention properties, whereas PrimaLoft retains 98 per cent of heat retention properties."

The jackets' lining is plaid, which Yurichuk said was part of their focus on the Canadian market.

"We really wanted to capture Canada, and what says Canada more than plaid?" he said. "That's why we decided to line all of our jackets in a nice, plush plaid, as well as wood and cotton trims to show our connection with nature and respecting animals."

Yurichuk said he's always been passionate about protecting animals, and that new technology eliminates the need for using actual fur.

"I came from a household where respecting the environment and respecting animals was important," he said. "If there's a spider, you put him outside. There's no need to take another life for fashion. My whole thing is that technology's caught up with the times, and it can help to form the skins of these animals, so why wouldn't we take advantage of that?"

Yurichuk said the jacket project has been in the works almost since he received the inspiration in 2012, and DeBartolo's help has been key to making it a reality.

"This has been about two and a half, three years in the making," Yurichuk said. "I come from a sports background, and making jackets and entrepreneurship are new to me, but I'm lucky to have a great partner in Anthony DeBartolo. He's a custom tailor in the Toronto area and he really worked hard on the shape of our jackets and design, so we make a great symbiotic team, as they say in the animal kingdom."

For each jacket sold, $10 will be donated to The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, a Canadian group that's been around since 1953 and is looking to abolish the commercial fur trade, create opportunities to co-exist with wildlife and foster empathy and compassion for wildlife and the environment. Yurichuk said the group's aims are a perfect fit for what Mammoth is trying to accomplish.

"We thought it would be great to get with them, because there's so many parallels to what we do," he said.

He said teamwork and leadership are key lessons he took from his CFL career into his career as an entrepreneur.

"Being on teams with so many different people, being seven years in, you've got to take more of a leadership role," he said. "Just managing my team, whether it's manufacturers, pattern-makers, designers, all these people, there's so many players in the mix, and it's helped me with that. And I've been lucky enough with the Argonauts to be involved with a lot of community engagement and being able to speak to crowds. I think that's really helped me to put my brand on display in our Kickstarter video and in pitching groups of people about this whole thing."

Yurichuk said he expected the project to do well, but the passion it's created and the level of success it's hit so far is remarkable, and that's further incentive for him and his team to deliver a great product. He said he's been impressed by the people who have supported the campaign even if they can't afford a jacket, too.

"The total response is pure motivation for us," he said. "This is a people's brand, purely fueled by the people. ...I understand not everyone can afford a jacket that's 600 dollars, but even just following and spreading our articles is very greatly appreciated. That's really what drove this campaign."

The Mammoth Kickstarter campaign can be found here. It runs through Dec. 23.