Canadian manufacturers seeking niches to prosper

Fri Jan 27, 2012 10:02am EST
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By Jennifer Kwan

TORONTO (Reuters) - Coat maker Canada Goose found its niche by shunning the make-it-offshore phenomenon, producing its heavy duty down parkas on Canadian soil.

Even as Canada's clothing industry crumbles, with employment down 60 percent in just over a decade, the 55-year old family-run shop bucked the broader trend of moving production to low-cost locales such as China by keeping manufacturing at home.

"Pretty much everybody at some point touches the jacket," Paul Riddlestone, vice-president of manufacturing and supply chain at Canada Goose, said amid the hum of sewing machines on the factory floor in an industrial part of Toronto's west end.

"We are rebuilding a manufacturing infrastructure that disappeared years ago."

The company is one of a growing number of Canadian manufacturers focusing on specialized, high-value products because it knows it cannot compete on price against goods made in emerging economies with far lower costs. The emphasis is on the craftsmanship and functionality of the gear, which is used in some of the coldest, driest and windiest corners of the globe.

The puffy Canada Goose jacket with its distinctive logo costs from $500 to more than $1,000, compared to $100 and up for a made-in-China down coat. Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest, has one. So does Lance Mackey, four time Iditarod and Yukon Quest dogsledding champion, along with oil riggers, police officers and Antarctica researchers.

"We have a country that is known globally to be very cold and people see Mounties and polar bears and igloos, and they hear about the Great White North," added Kevin Spreekmeester, the company's vice-president of global marketing. "The imagery that they relate to relates back to these jackets."

QUALITY FIRST   Continued...