The Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) has been in force between Ukraine and Canada for over two years. Under this agreement, most Ukrainian goods are not subject to import duties when imported into Canada. Benefits apply to shoes as well, averaging 18% of the customs value, which is our competitive advantage over such powerful global footwear suppliers as China or Vietnam.
Let’s try to understand how easy it is for Ukrainian footwear manufacturers to enter the Canadian market and take advantage of its competitive advantages.
Canada’s shoe industry volume is expected to reach CAD 7.7 billion in 2019. In Ontario alone, one of Canada’s 10 provinces, there are 1,260 shoe stores.
During a year, an average Canadian family spends approximately CAD 624 on shoes, of which CAD 347 for women and girls, and CAD 277 for men and boys.
Canada is among the top five shoe consuming countries, with the lion’s share being imported. Last year, Canada imported 161 million pairs of shoes from China and Vietnam only (69% of total footwear imports).
The next group of major shoe-supplying countries for Canada are Italy – 8%, Cambodia and Indonesia – 4% each. The remaining footwear imports (15%) come from other countries including Ukraine.
At the same time, Canada also successfully exports shoes. In 2018, shoe production in Canada reached CAD 458 million. Canada ranked 12th in the world of footwear exporters. About 90% of Canadian shoes were exported to the United States.
There are more than 120 footwear industries in Canada, mainly in Ontario (24), Quebec (22) and British Columbia (10). These are mostly small (up to one hundred workers) factories with modern equipment. In total, shoe manufacturing across the country employs about 1.4 thousand people.
Footwear preferences of Canadians
The Canadian footwear market is fairly conservative, especially with regard to winter models. Canadians have special requirements for winter footwear. As they joke, the Canadian year has only two seasons – winter and construction season, and both require good-quality footwear.
The frost-and-snow season in Canada lasts for five months. Therefore, winter footwear should, first and foremost, provide warmth, be waterproof and stability on slippery surfaces. In other words, consumer comfort determines the style of winter footwear.
Some winter footwear models in Canada have been consistently sold for decades. According to Andy Orchard, Cougar Shoes Inc.’s Sales Manager, red-tab winter boots have been in demand in the Canadian men’s, women’s and children’s footwear market for over forty years. “When I was 15 or 16 years old (40 years ago), everyone, absolutely everyone in Canada, wore those boots. The red tabs had to be outside in order to be visible. It was something like a uniform. This model of Cougar winter boots is in demand among Canadians to this day”, – he says.
Ethnic diversity has some influence on Canadian consumer preferences. Especially in such numerous diasporas as Hindu or Chinese. Today, one of five Canadians is born outside Canada. By immigrating to Canada, people bring with them national habits or preferences from their countries of origin. First of all, it concerns traditional food, clothing, and footwear.
External influence on the market
The footwear market in Canada is significantly influenced by the US footwear market trends, which is almost 10 times bigger than the Canadian market. This is natural because about 90% of Canada’s population resides in the 100-mile strip along the US border, and the economies of both countries are closely related.
FN PLATRFORM Show in Las Vegas is one of the most important American footwear shows that determine shoe fashion in Canada. According to Tamara Szames, a Canadian shoe market analyst, the footwear shown at FN PLATRFORM in August will hit store sales next spring. She also emphasizes the increasing influence of fast fashion on the footwear market, especially for summer and sports shoes. This means that the “must-have shoes” that were just shown on the catwalk should be manufactured very quickly because “… if you missed the season shoes you may have missed the whole season”.
Canadians pay little attention whether the materials used to make shoes are natural or not. What is important is water resistance. This is one of the qualities of shoes in Canada that influences the buying decision. And this is not only for winter shoes. Don’t be surprised to read “waterproof” on sandals. The Canadian logic is: if you get caught in the rain in the sandals or stepped into a puddle, they should not get wet through or absorb water. Water should simply trickle down the sandals without creating discomfort.
Recently the so-called “consumer fatigue” from Chinese imports has been increasing in North America. Many consumers are ready to refocus on other manufacturers if they offer comfortable and modern models at attractive prices. Quite often, a lower price is a determining factor for Canadians deciding to buy shoes.
This is what Ukrainian shoe manufacturers should take advantage of. Taking into account all the specifics of the Canadian market and offering an attractive price due to the absence of import duties, the Ukrainian shoe business has every chance to win its place under the changing Canadian sun.
Author – Valeriy Kokot