Earlier this year, I shared some devastating news. After nearly a decade of working in Ethiopia, I was faced with the tough decision to close down our factory and let go of our 110 hardworking factory employees. As you can imagine, it was crushing. The last year in general has been an emotional ride only some could ever know, few should ever have to realize, but gut-wrenching at every turn.
While difficult, I never once doubted my original vision – to create hand-crafted quality footwear that showcases responsible manufacturing – and so, I began to wonder if there could be another chapter, building on the lessons learned over the last ten years.
With Oliberté, my goal of manufacturing in Africa wasn’t about saying everyone should do the same, but for us to inspire others. I wanted to open people’s minds to the idea that manufacturing can be done responsibly anywhere in the world, even in our own backyards.
And so, it is in my own backyard in Canada that I have begun the next chapter for Oliberté. I have spent the last year visiting with the few remaining shoe manufacturers in Canada. I have looked at factories from Northern Quebec to Western British Columbia, but in the end have found a great partner in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The path wasn’t easy, as I wanted to carry on the core look and design concept of Oliberté’s rugged casual models and some things had to change – but I think we got it right!
Some key changes have been made to our styles that I feel really take our boots to the next level, but overall the look and feel of the brand is still very familiar. We continue to use rugged and aged leathers (what we call “pull-up leather”) and ensure each pair of our boots has over 1,000 stitches. Our stitch-down construction has now evolved into the more classic and well-established Goodyear Storm Welt. We have partnered with Vibram to add the next level of comfort and quality to our rubber outsoles. You will notice on our boots and packaging little odes to Canada: from our new secondary logo of a maple leaf with the Oliberté circle embedded within, to our tissue paper showing the vast size of the country. One of my favourite little touches are the new footbeds that feature the many different cities and provinces of Canada.
To transition to the new Made in Canada collection, our style names have changed as well, taking on Canada’s beautiful natural landscapes, from lakes to mountains to parks. We will be announcing each of those new styles soon. Our first launch will be the Huron, an updated version of the Adibo, our popular 3-hole chukka boot. The Huron name comes from Lake Huron, the third largest freshwater lake in the world and the second largest of Canada’s Great Lakes.
“What about price?”, you must be asking This is where I struggled quite a bit over countless nights. Making our boots and shoes in Ethiopia was not cheap, but I always wanted to make it affordable compared to the quality, and I felt we accomplished this. While our costs in Ethiopia weren’t as cheap as other parts of the world, our costs in Canada are now 300% higher. That is a huge jump, and a reflection of not just the quality and labour, but also our upgrade in materials. I have met with many other brands big and small to figure the best pricing model. Many of our competitors are charging between $700-$900 for a similar product made in Canada or the USA, and I don’t feel comfortable pricing are boots there. Some of my bigger competitors have more competitive pricin but have been in business for over 100 years, so it’s hard to compete with them on price as I know a brand’s heritage does matter in the eyes of the consumer. In the end, I want Oliberté to be known for its style, its mission, as well as its accessibility for those who feel our boots add value to their wardrobe and personal philosophy. I feel we have done that. And while our own costs are up 300%, our prices have increased only a fraction of that, but still are up 30%. That’s not easy for us to do, but it’s important for me to have people wearing our boots and telling our story, and I feel we can do that.
Our boots will not be for everyone and that is okay. Maybe some won’t buy them because of the price, or because we no longer make them in Ethiopia. Maybe it is because we use leather, or perhaps they just don’t like our style.
As Oliberté continues to embrace its Canadian heritage, we are rallying behind our supporters in their search for something better in every aspect of their lives. If that person is you, our Made in Canada collection is meant to be worn for all indoor and outdoor adventures. I can say with confidence they are built to last a lifetime, hence our lifetime warranty.
Thank you again for your continued support and we can’t wait to share what we have been working on.
Handcrafted Boots. Made Right. In Canada.