Tax haven: how jacket thefts swept the UK

Owning the “right” thing has always mattered. Now, the status jacket has become so desirable that it is being stolen, quite literally, off people’s backs.

Canada Goose describes its clothing as an invitation to live boldly and bravely”. It’s an idea in line with the spirit of mountain explorers. But living bravely took on a different meaning for wearers of the brand’s coats in the UK this winter.

The Canada Goose Wyndham – as well as similar puffer designs by Moncler and North Face – has become the latest status jacket, an item of clothing so sought-after and valuable that it is being stolen right off its wearers’ backs.

In December, Transport for London revealed that thefts of these coats were contributing to a rise in what they call acquisitive crime” on the Tube. The Evening Standard reported that there were 10,836 incidents of theft between April and September, up from 6,294 in 2022: a shocking 56 per cent rise. Stories of violence over coats have since appeared across media platforms.

It’s not necessarily a fashion piece. It’s more like you’ve got a North Face, I’ve got a North Face, that’s it’”

Kai, a fashion student

But for those I spoke to on a grey March afternoon, the risk was far from front-of-mind. Rom, a cheerful house mover, is wearing a North Face coat he got in December. He sees it as a cold-weather classic and likes Canada Goose but says it’s too expensive. For the money, [North Face] is worth it. They last a long time. It’s a statement piece but it’s more affordable.” Pablo is about to get the Stansted Express to catch a plane home to Porto. He’s wearing a jazzy Moncler and carrying a Louis Vuitton holdall. Maybe [it is a status symbol] because they cost quite a lot of money,” he says. Has he heard about people stealing jackets in London? Is he scared? I wasn’t until you told me.”

Yilin, an international student in Covent Garden, has a classic Moncler, worn with oversized flares and a Freitag backpack. She says her fellow international students like to wear luxury brands” – she doesn’t wear her coat because she adores” the brand, it’s more to fit in, for social reasons”. Kai and Andrea, on Oxford Street, are both wearing black North Face jackets and New Balance trainers. They also say all of their friends have them. It’s not necessarily a fashion piece,” says Kai, a fashion student. It’s more like you’ve got a North Face, I’ve got a North Face, that’s it.’”

Conversations around the thefts are partly classic lawless Britain” moral panic spread by the tabloids, but the incidents across the UK and Ireland – principally involving young men – are objectively alarming. Two men punching a Canada Goose wearer on a train platform in Kent. A 15-year-old stabbed in Dublin in an incident over his coat from the same brand. A teenager robbed of his Moncler jacket while getting off the bus in Bexley. Another robbery of a North Face jacket in a shopping centre in Cumbria. Yet another teenager robbed of his Moncler, this time in Milton Keynes shopping centre.

A twentysomething shared a video on TikTok in December of him sitting in a hospital waiting room with what looks like a visible scar on his face, captioning it Don’t die for Canada Goose”. If the full story there is unclear, back in 2021 there was the sad case of Hussein Chaudhry in Walthamstow. He arguably did die for Canada Goose, after two men fatally stabbed him rather than pay for a jacket he was selling on social media.

The Metropolitan Police and Tfl declined to speak to me for this article, and it makes sense that the authorities want to play these stories down. The British Transport Police stuck to the same message with their response.

People should be able to wear clothing safely on the network, and the chances of becoming a victim of crime on the transport network remains very low,” said Superintendent John Loveless, clarifying that it’s still phones, rather than jackets, that are the most stolen items. It is always sensible to be conscious of your surroundings and of those around you when travelling.”

Andrew Groves, who runs the Menswear Archive at Westminster University, quotes a 1990 academic paper which found that 27 per cent of larceny prosecutions between 1620 and 1680 were down to thefts of clothing”

The concept of the status jacket” is not a new one. In 2013, the Marmot Mammoth, a £530 parka sometimes known as the biggie” among its fans, hit headlines in New York after a 20-year-old was shot in a fight over it. The New York Times called it a tainted status symbol”. It followed Helly Hansen jackets earlier in the 00s and North Face Nuptses in the 90s, which were regularly shoplifted from stores.

The crime that follows status jackets is often seen as part of this relatively recent history of streetwear – The New York Times compared it to people stealing sought-after trainers when they first became fashionable in the 80s. But David Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, is dismissive: We somehow think the problems that we’re facing are new. Whereas, in fact, if you peel back the layers just slightly, that problem has always been there, albeit in a different form.”

He namechecks Fagin’s gang of young thieves in Oliver Twist, written in the 1830s, who steal handkerchiefs and sell them on. Andrew Groves, who runs the Menswear Archive at Westminster University, goes further back, quoting a 1990 academic paper which found that 27 per cent of larceny prosecutions between 1620 and 1680 were down to thefts of clothing.

Outerwear has long been a signal of status. It’s up there with designer handbags and expensive watches as a way for wearers to feel they’re high up the hierarchies of their different communities. A Burberry trench coat still has bluechip kudos among finance bros, a Dries Van Noten overcoat might shunt you to the front row of a fashion show, a beat-up Barbour is a flex if you’re mucking out the horses at a stable.

But it’s not these jackets that are stolen off their wearers’ backs – probably because their status only has reach in smaller communities. Moncler, Canada Goose and North Face, meanwhile, with their front and centre (or sleeve) logos, are peak conspicuous consumption. These coats cost a lot of money – a Moncler down jacket starts at £895, a Canada Goose Wyndham starts at £1,250, even a North Face Nuptse is £315 – and we all know it. Worn by rappers and Real Housewives alike, these jackets are like a Rolex on a wrist or a Porsche in a parking space – something that swathes of society recognise as a luxury item.

“[Young people say] I want to look different and be different, but I need something which is like a veritable sort of badge’”

Alex Goat, the CEO of Livity, a brand agency that works with young people

This position is partly thanks to their marketing. These are all brands with outdoor history that double down on their ability to create clothing that withstands cold temperatures and outfits actual explorers. But they also have a heritage as a chosen brand of a wealthy European demographic for whom skiing is blocked out in the annual family calendar. The actual one per cent may have slightly moved on from these brands for being too ostentatious (think of Roman’s takedown of Tom’s branded Moncler gilet in Succession: Nice vest, Wambsgans. It’s so puffy. What’s it stuffed with, your hopes and dreams?”) but those associations are baked in. These are jackets that are the best of the best.

Maybe that’s why they play out particularly well among young people, who are perhaps more likely to go for items that have a sure thing” quality – clothes with status that will be noticed by their peers.

We always hear that,” says Alex Goat, the CEO of Livity, a brand agency that works with young people. “[They say] I want to look different and be different, but I need something which is like a veritable sort of badge.’”

At the time of writing, it’s cold and windy, so these jackets are everywhere. I spot the recognisable Canada Goose logo on a twentysomething in the away end of Sheffield United’s ground Bramall Lane on TV. I see a teenager wearing a box-fresh Moncler jacket and matching beanie on the 236 bus. And there’s countless North Face, often worn with Adidas Sambas and oversized jeans.

It’s the fashionability of these jackets that creates an opportunity: criminal networks supply the demand to those who don’t have the disposable income to drop four figures on a jacket.

There are always going to be changing must-haves,” says Wilson. That creates a legitimate market for that particular good but it’s also going to create an illegitimate market.”

According to Wilson, stolen jackets will be resold as part of a black market, either in pubs or on sites and apps like Depop, eBay or Vinted, however much these retailers fight to avoid shifting stolen goods. They will likely shift quickly, too. A Moncler jacket for £200 on an app is a much more palatable price than the four figures you need to buy it new and, unlike a phone, say, there’s no need to reset an item of clothing. Check the pockets, snap a couple of pictures and it’s good to go.

It was hard to steal items in the UK so we started looking for designer shops in countries like Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. It was a bit of a competition [among] who would be out the next weekend with the most expensive, flash jacket”

Andres Branco, founder of Wavey Garms

These crimes aren’t entirely about the resale economy, though. Those in New York argued that the spate of Marmot thefts a decade ago were related to bragging rights – posting your potentially stolen jackets in every colourway to the then fairly new social media feeds was a thing back then. Mark, who keeps his surname private, runs the Twitter account @CrimeLdn. He believes that sometimes these status jackets might be taken if the wearer owes the attacker money, or it could be about settling a score.

They might not even want the jacket,” he says. They just want the person to be humiliated… It’s a power thing: I’ve got this £1,000 jacket off someone.’” Groves makes a similar point. A jacket is relatively easy to steal, but it can also be worn as an external status symbol,” he says. Those in the know would be aware of recent thefts and wearing one of these jackets could be a way to signal your involvement. You get to brag about your crime to others through your dress.”

Andres Branco, the founder of Wavey Garms, had a possibly misspent, possibly formative, youth shoplifting items that were favoured in the graffiti crews he was part of.

It was hard to steal items in the UK so we started looking for designer shops in countries like Belgium, Germany and Switzerland,” he says. The jackets were the top prize. We would come back with a crazy amount of designer clothes but that was the main aim of the game. It felt like it was a bit of a competition [among] who would be out on the next weekend with the most expensive, flash jacket.”

It’s basically a fashion trend to not buy the jacket and [instead] steal it, as it’s essentially a badge of honour”

Andres Branco, founder of Wavey Garms

Almost everyone I speak to has a story about the status jacket of their youth. If Branco mentions North Face and Arc’teryx around 2008, Mark talks about Avirex in the early 00s: People said you shouldn’t wear that jacket on your back if you go to certain areas because they knew it was expensive, a symbol of status,” he says.

“‘Taxing’ was an integral part of football casual culture in the 80s,” adds Groves, referring to the practice of stealing from younger members of a football firm. There are numerous accounts of young men being taxed’ for their clothing, whether it was a Pringle jumper or a Stone Island jacket. [It] is as much about the humiliation of the victim as it is about gaining new clothes or trainers.”

Branco explains that the items’ association with the elite also means that wearing a stolen four-figure jacket has become an IYKYK symbol – a way to get one over on the status quo.

I even know graffers from Australia who travel down to these places [European countries] to rack expensive techwear jackets to sell back in Oz,” says Branco. It’s basically a fashion trend to not buy the jacket and [instead] steal it, as it’s essentially a badge of honour.”

Both Canada Goose and Moncler declined to speak to THE FACE for this piece (although Canada Goose did provide brand material). But the fact that people are still walking around with what could be seen as targets on their backs shows the seductive power of status symbols.

I think most young people understand the proximity to violence against them, or within their groups,” says Goat. While she hasn’t spoken to young people specifically about these jackets, their popularity would tally with a wider trend. With lots of things, young people would see that potential for harm – but it would be outweighed by social currency and status.”

Wyatt, a chef I met at Liverpool Street station, certainly sees it that way. He’s had his Canada Goose jacket for five years and bought it after his friends recommended it. They say you can wear it in minus ten temperatures.” He is wary, though, after reading stories about people stealing the jackets. I just do what I can,” he says. I stay in the crowd. I need this jacket – otherwise, what would I wear?”

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