How Cana­dian craft prod­ucts are mak­ing their mark on the busi­ness world

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - STEPHEN THORNE Post me­dia Con­tent Works

There’s a revo­lu­tion go­ing on in Cana­dian in­dus­try and small busi­ness, and it’s tak­ing the world by storm. It’s the craft revo­lu­tion, and by mak­ing qual­ity prod­ucts and us­ing the In­ter­net’s reach to mar­ket them, young and cre­ative en­trepreneurs like Métis Sean McCormick and the beer- mak­ing Beauch­esnes are carv­ing a new niche in Canada’s in­dus­trial land­scape.

McCormick started Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks out of Win­nipeg a decade ago. Its core prod­uct is not only quintessen­tially Cana­dian, it’s au­then­ti­cally pre- Cana­dian. First Na­tions- owned and - op­er­ated, the footwear the com­pany’s largely In­dige­nous staff pro­duce pre­dates Con­fed­er­a­tion by thou­sands of years.

Its prod­uct tech­nolo­gies have an­cient roots, but its mar­ket­ing tools are state-ofthe-art. Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks makes the most of the In­ter­net and all of its ad­van­tages.

The com­pany ships to 43 coun­tries as it taps into a grow­ing de­mand for func­tional, ar­ti­sanal- style prod­ucts with a back­story. Its main prod­uct is sold in dozens of stores, in­clud­ing Ca­bela’s, Nord­strom and Holt Ren­frew, bring­ing a lit­tle piece of his­tory and her­itage to the masses while cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment and op­por­tu­nity among First Na­tions.

“In­dige­nous peo­ples have been here for thou­sands of years and have known how to sur­vive in North Amer­i­can en­vi­ron­ments way be­fore set­tlers came,” said com­pany spokes­woman Tara Barnes. “The trade in muk­luks, moc­casins and hides formed the foun­da­tions of what we know as mod­ern Canada.”

Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks is on the crest of a grow­ing trend to­ward more lo­cally made, en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious and smaller- scale prod­ucts. Cana­di­ans, and the world, are in­creas­ingly look­ing to spend their money on au­then­tic, sto­ried and well­made goods whose ben­e­fits to real peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties are eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able.

The craft revo­lu­tion is bring­ing depth, rel­e­vance and re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­sumer pur­chases.

For buy­ers, it’s a more sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing that a com­pany like Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks is per­pet­u­at­ing tra­di­tional skills and sup­port­ing the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity.

Hand­made with in­tri­cate bead­work and gen­uine ma­te­ri­als, Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks of­fers a range of prod­ucts and ac­ces­sories that are beau­ti­ful and func­tional, us­ing meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als proven over mil­len­nia to work.

It has a ro­bust re­tail net­work, but its web­site, man­i­to­bah. ca, is its pri­mary link to the world at large. Di­rect-to-con­sumer on­line sales are its fastest- grow­ing seg­ment.

The web­site has al­lowed Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks and its 125+ em­ploy­ees to tell their story, show their goods, and go global with­out com­pro­mis­ing the brand or the his­tory be­hind it.

“Trade, com­merce and shar­ing of cul­ture form the premise be­hind hu­man con­nec­tion,” Barnes said. “So by buy­ing a pair of muk­luks from an In­dige­nous brand, you’re re­ally mak­ing an au­then­tic con­nec­tion with hu­mans across the planet.”

Man­i­to­bah Muk­luks l aunched i ts web­site six years ago, choos­ing .CA as its do­main be­cause it is read­ily rec­og­niz­able as Cana­dian.

“As an iconic Cana­dian brand that makes i conic footwear, we thought ‘ let’s go with an iconic .CA ad­dress,’ ” Barnes said.

Judy Hong, a se­nior eq­uity re­search an­a­lyst at Gold­man Sachs Re­search, said de- mand for ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts like muk­luks res­onate with new con­sumers and span the gamut, from food and bev­er­ages to soap and wear­ables.

“We’re in the midst of a craft revo­lu­tion,” said Hong. “We’re see­ing ex­plo­sive growth in many con­sumer prod­ucts cat­e­gories. We re­ally think the craft revo­lu­tion will be a global phe­nom­e­non over the next 10 years.”

Craft beer has been at the fore­front of the shift — craft or mi­cro­brew­eries now com­prise 10 per cent of both Canada and U.S. mar­kets.

Tim Beauch­esne and son Steve launched Beau’s All Nat­u­ral Brew­ing Com­pany in the heart of farm coun­try east of Ot­tawa in 2006. Their tim­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter. There were about three craft brew­eries in the re­gion then; now, there are more than 20.

Bom­barded by im­age- driven mass mar­ket­ing and all-too-sim­i­lar prod­ucts, beer drinkers had be­gun l ook­ing to smaller, l ocal brew­eries us­ing nat­u­ral, of­ten lo­cally pro­duced in­gre­di­ents. They of­fered an af­ford­able, flavour­ful ex­pe­ri­ence that com­ple­mented the ris­ing foodie craze.

“It was a huge op­por­tu­nity,” said Beau’s cre­ative di­rec­tor Jordan Bam­forth. “It had a com­pelling story, it was a great prod­uct, and it of­fered some­thing dif­fer­ent to peo­ple who were clam­our­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Bam­for t h sa i d Bea u’s chose a . CA do­main ( beaus. ca) be­cause it is “a great sym­bol” that tells peo­ple right off the top that the com­pany and the prod­uct is Cana­dian.

“It’s ba­si­cally like stick­ing a Cana­dian flag right into your brand name,” he said. “It gives us a sense of iden­tity and lo­ca­tion, and we’re able to show our pride in our lo­ca­tion through one of our main pro­mo­tional tools. Any­where we’re list­ing our URL — on our busi­ness cards, in an ad­ver­tise­ment or in a brochure — that . CA i s com­mu­ni­cat­ing some­thing.”

Ready to make your mark on Canada’s craft scene? Reg­is­ter your . CA do­main name at Choose.ca.

We re­ally think the craft revo­lu­tion will be a global phe­nom­e­non over the next 10 years.

SUP­PLIED A pint of lager from Beau’s All Nat­u­ral Brew­ing Com­pany.

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