How Canadian craft products are making their mark on the business world
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 launched its website six years ago, choosing .CA as its domain because it is readily recognizable as Canadian.
“As an iconic Canadian brand that makes iconic 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 demand 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 looking to smaller, local 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.”
Bamforth said Beau’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 is 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.
A pint of lager from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company.