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British school bans pricey Canada Goose jackets in effort at ‘poverty-proofing’

Canada Goose jackets are piled up at the Canada Goose factory in Toronto in April 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP)

Students at a school in northwest England, battling the bitter cold when they return in January from their Christmas holiday, will be without the protective armor of Canada Goose jackets.

Woodchurch High School has decided that the trademark Arctic logo — an inverted North Pole and maple leaves, signaling security against frigid climes — is also an egregious signal of wealth, incompatible with the school’s values. The brand’s most distinctive fur-trimmed black parkas cost about $1,000, with options for kids that go for a bit less.

School officials this week alerted families that the designer outerwear will be banned in the new year. Moncler and Pyrenex coats will also be verboten.

Head teacher Rebekah Phillips told the BBC that the prohibition was part of an attempt at “poverty-proofing our school environment.” Poverty-proofing is a project that aims to minimize barriers to learning faced by low-income students. Phillips said school administrators had heard from students about pressure to flaunt high-end brands — the same complaints behind the school’s decision several years ago to introduce a common student bag.

In a letter home to parents, an assistant head teacher laid out the school’s rationale, the Liverpool Echo reported.

“As you are all aware from an email that was sent out yesterday, pupils will not be permitted to bring in [Canada] Goose and [Moncler] coats after the Christmas break,” the letter stated, adding that Pyrenex coats would also be prohibited.

“The support from parents/carers has been overwhelmingly positive and we are very thankful for this,” it stated. “I am writing to confirm that these brands will also be prohibited after Christmas.

Some parents voiced approval on social media, while others were less than impressed, with one person calling the policy a “hideous can of worms.”

Shielding lower-income students from stigma has been the intention behind the efforts of some British schools to keep down the cost of school uniforms, while a common set of clothing was initially intended in 16th-century England to “emphasize the lower status of the children who wore them,” according to an account by Virginia Tech sociologist David L. Brunsma. The more modern aim to prevent so-called poverty shaming has spelled the end of other educational paraphernalia, including luxury pencil cases.

The U.K. and the United States are among the most unequal of the world’s major economies, and schooling often serves as a microcosm of larger divides. A study released earlier this year found that inequity in British schools is widening, as fewer children from less privileged backgrounds are attending highly rated institutions.

Woodchurch, located in the town of Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula, is a nonselective, co-ed secondary school serving 11-to 16-year-olds. A Church of England academy, the school advertises its “Christian Ethos” as a distinctive feature of the learning environment. Its religious values, the school states, guide its efforts to “ensure everyone feels included” and to “celebrate the diversity within the school family.”

Canada Goose is also proud of its distinctive traditions. Based in Toronto, it was founded as Metro Sportswear by a Polish immigrant in 1957. Sam Tick specialized in woolen vests, raincoats and snowmobile suits. His son-in-law, David Reiss, joined the company in the 1970s and introduced a down filling machine. The invention fit the new label, Snow Goose, which later became Canada Goose.

The company markets its products as the steadfast and sophisticated answer to “extreme weather.” In 1982, Laurie Skreslet was wearing a custom jacket manufactured by Metro Sportswear when he became the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest. Canada Goose says it is the "(un)official jacket of film crews everywhere it’s cold.” A short film in 2015 begins with the announcement that Canada Goose, for almost 60 years, “has been freeing people from the cold.” The company has come under criticism for using coyote fur, though it maintains that it operates in accordance with international standards.

Canada Goose opened its first flagship stores in Toronto and New York in 2016. And its coats are hardly the preserve of iconoclast explorers.

They’re ubiquitous in well-heeled circles, prompting backlash and making the coats a potent symbol of vexed class dynamics.

The same year shoppers in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood gained access to a retail space featuring maple benches and raw marble detailing sourced from British Columbia, Marc Jacobs put one of the parkas on the runway. The fashion designer matched a men’s Manitoba jacket with a billowing, floor-length, sequined gown. Feathers burst from the “lovely jacket with a slim and modern fit,” as it is described, perfect for the Arctic climate — “or northern urban settings.”

“You Can Buy This Jacket From the Marc Jacobs Show Right Now,” blared the headline in Glamour.

The article announced breathlessly, “At last night’s show, among cropped feathered jackets, exaggerated silhouettes, and beyond chunky platform boots, Jacobs styled a look with a down parka, designed by none other than the winter-weather savior Canada Goose.”

“You can buy the coat right now,” Glamour promised, “at Barneys!”

You just can’t wear it at Woodchurch High School in northwest England.

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