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Manitobah Mukluks fuses aboriginal culture and fashion

What’s a Manitobah Mukluk, anyway?

Well, they’re boots, for a start. Cozy and soft, yet ultra-durable, mukluks can withstand the roughest Canadian conditions. You might say they’re the ultimate blend of style and function. Plus, there’s generations of Indigenous knowledge and tradition sewn into every stitch! 

For Sean McCormick, founder of Manitobah, working with leather and fur has been part of the fabric of his life since an early age.

Tapping into a growing demand for authentic Indigenous footwear, McCormick founded Manitobah – an online store that sells mukluks and moccasins, made using traditional techniques through partnerships with elders and artisans.

“Each authentic Canadian Aboriginal footwear item is made by local women in the community,” says McCormick. “Manitobah has approximately 75 employees and 35 percent of them are Aboriginal.”

Manitobah began operating in 2008 and today is one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies, with customers and employees around the globe.

Making a positive impact

In 2023, Manitobah became a Certified B Corporation, which is a for-profit company that’s committed to creating measurable social and environmental good.

To that end, the company is focused on elevating Indigenous communities through several initiatives like their Storyboot School. Aboriginal artisans and students work together to ensure knowledge gets passed from generation to generation.

Manitobah’s Indigenous Market collection also features a curated selection of one-of-a-kind footwear, accessories and artwork – all while giving 100% of the profits back to Indigenous artists and creators.

From e-commerce to high-end retailers

Manitobah began as an online store but has now expanded to having its products carried by Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew, Town Shoes and other high-end retailers.

“Our retailers are broad, diverse and passionate about supporting an Aboriginal brand,” he notes. “At this point we can be found at over 1,500 retail stores around the world.”

Retail presence aside, Manitobah still leans on its online store to connect with its global customer base.

“ became the company’s ‘flagship’ store that goes wherever our customer is and communicates our story for us,” says McCormick. “Our ability to reach out to new potential consumers, understand the costs of doing so, and then being able to scale that, has been instrumental to our growth.”

“Outside of Canada, the USA is our largest market and our fastest growing segment. We’ve definitely found a global network of people who share our vision.”

Traditional designs add authenticity

Made with natural materials and a durable Vibram sole designed for city wear, fans love the functional nature of Manitobah’s trademark footwear. The designs aren’t too far off from the footwear that helped McCormick’s ancestors survive in Canada for thousands of years.  

“They also connect to our deep and evolving story of cultural survival,” he says.

Facing the startup struggles

Such a success story doesn’t come without its fair share of startup struggles. McCormick says the company struggled with pricing its product in its early days.

“Our biggest lesson was in understanding the costs of every transaction,” McCormick says of the e-commerce business. He goes on to stress, “Once a company finds an audience that can be acquired for less than their lifetime value, you have the ability to scale that business.”

The company also faces the challenge of financing its growth. McCormick says the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship (CAPE) Fund has been instrumental to their success.

“Access to capital is essential for any growing business and it can be a roadblock for Aboriginal entrepreneurs in particular,” says Barnes.

Storytelling and community is central to the Manitobah Mukluks brand

McCormick is always thinking about how Manitobah Mukluks’ growth could further benefit Aboriginal communities.

“Every time we prioritize a project, we analyze what sort of short and long-term impact it will make for the business and for Aboriginal people in general.”

Barnes says Manitobah sees its future as a social enterprise “with the community as our main shareholder.”

The company employs an Aboriginal hiring policy and gives bursaries to the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) that helps young graduates go into business.

“Overall, our presence in the industry is indicative of a new era of Indigenous identity that is respected, acknowledged, successful and positive,” McCormick says.

McCormick says his passion for mukluks has a bigger-picture meaning for him and his community.

“It’s an incredible metaphor for cultural survival that a Métis entrepreneur is succeeding globally in business with a product that his ancestors used to survive for thousands of years.”

McCormick reminds entrepreneurs to understand their customers.

“If you boil down our entrepreneurial philosophy it probably looks like this: capitalize on every opportunity, be light on your feet, make a product you believe in, make a positive social impact and be ethical.”

“Everyone who works here is very proud, very competitive and understands how to scale their impact.”

Connecting with Canadian customers with a .CA

Not surprisingly, 90 per cent of Manitobah’s business comes directly from Canadian customers. He says the .CA domain name immediately communicates “Canadian” to their customer base.

“We understand what it means to live here, whether it’s -40 or there’s a Chinook,” says McCormick. He believes the company’s Canadian customer base is as passionate as the company when it comes to improving the relationship with and the lives of Indigenous people.

“Manitobah Mukluks are Canada’s iconic winter boot so having an iconic Canadian domain like is a nice way to reinforce that.”

Without its .CA domain , McCormick says his company “could easily be a niche, local product. Instead, we’ve started to find a global network of people who share our vision.”

Learn more about Manitobah Mukluks.

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