Manitobah Mukluks Launches 1st Permanent Flagship Store as Brand Expands Retail Presence [Interview]

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Manitobah, an Indigenous footwear store, has launched its first flagship location in Winnipeg.

The company, founded by Sean McCormick in 1997, is well known to provide Indigenous mukluks and moccasins and has become one of the fastest growing companies in Canada. 

Sean, who is a part of the Metis Indigenous community, started dreaming of owning his own company in High School and wanted a business representing his community. Today, Manitobah sells a variety of mukluks and moccasins using materials from Deerskin, Sheepskin, Full Grown Leather, and Rabbit Fur – materials that have been used for Mukluks for 10,000 years. 

Lor Brand

“Prior to the company officially starting Sean had the idea of the company and was already selling leather and furs to makers in High School. That went on to him opening a trading post where he was essentially trading already made mukluks and moccasins for more leather and furs, so it created a cycle with indigenous artists. Then the demand just increased, and he started in 1997 what is now Manitobah,” says Lor Brand, the Marketing Coordinator and Artists Relations for Manitobah. 

“The inspiration of the company really comes from Sean and his community. Mukluks are the original footwear of Turtle Island, or now what we now call North America. Very little has changed other than the sole, kind of some modern updates just for living in modern day society, but all of it is really based on that ancestral design which makes our product the best winter boot you can possibly have because it was built for some of the harshest climates in the world.”

First Flagship Store 

Manitobah (Image: Lindsay Rowan)

Manitobah flagship store is located at The Forks Market in Winnipeg and is 3,000 square feet. Before this, Manitobah just had pop-up locations; however, the owner always envisioned opening a permanent store where they can welcome everyone in and create a space for the Indigenous community in the area. The store had a soft opening on September 1st where they started off opening in a pipe ceremony lead by an elder. 

“Manitobah Mukluks is built by and for Indigenous community and we wanted a space where folks could come in and feel welcome, feel proud of who they are, and see Sean’s success. We wanted something community could really be proud of. So, when young indigenous folks are coming in, they are seeing their own success in it and believe they can do it too because Sean started this with just a dream and a love for Indigenous art. So many of us have that and we want to be able to provide that inspiration to people.”  

The grand opening of the store was on September 10th where it had representation from all communities. Brand said the store had Indigenous performers, artists, and they all came to support the store and to share history. 

“We had an opening song from a drummer, we will have hoop dancers, a fancy shawl dancer, so a bunch of different dance styles where they will come in and share a little bit about what they do, why it is important to them, and the historical context.” 

Since opening, every day Brand says the manager takes her time and smudges the store as in the middle of the store is a smudging bowl. The store also has plans to make the centre of a store a community space where Indigenous people can be together, it will also be used for activities such as workshops and to create products. 

Unique, Warm, and Comfortable Products

Manitobah (Image: Lindsay Rowan)

Manitobah includes a variety of products ranging from its traditional mukluks, moccasins, and have recently expanded to accessories such as bags, mittens, and blankets. Every Mukluk has a unique design to them that was created by an Indigenous artist. 

“In the store, it is a lot of mukluks, as it is our heart and soul of the company. We have tons of traditional pieces and tons of moccasins, so there is a whole range of different styles people can pick from. We also have some cozy new products like blankets, and for the first time we are diving into accessories, like bags, and people will be able to see those for the first time in the store.” 

Mukluks are made with the thought of freezing temperatures and are suitable down to -32 weather conditions, they are also waterproof up to four inches. The design has been created 10,000 years ago by Indigenous peoples and has updated over time.

“One of the beautiful things about mukluks is about how simple they are, with other winter boots they often get clunky because they are incredibly technical. The nice thing about mukluks is they use your own blood circulation. If you put your foot into a mukluk, you will notice it feels flexible and there is a lot of space in it so your foot, so it is using your own foot for warmth. This is something not a lot of other companies do and that is a part of those thousand years ancestral design that was developed more than 10 thousand years ago, so it was keeping them warm, and it is keeping us warm now.”  

The Bloom Collection 

Manitobah (Image: Lindsay Rowan)

Manitobah has also recently launched its new collection, the Bloom Collection. Brand said it has been the fanciest beadwork they have done and “it is beautiful.” The design was created by an Ojibwe artist, Shannon Gustafson. 

“We are really excited to tell Shannon’s story and celebrate her art and show people this amazing mukluk with this amazing beadwork with glass crystals on them and sparkly and beautiful and has amazing floral beadwork on them.” 

In addition to its products, Manitobah also has an Indigenous Marketplace where 100 percent of the sales goes directly to the Indigenous artist. Customers can find a variety of products including mukluks, moccasins, earrings, and more.  All items are hand crafted by an Indigenous artist and are made in Canada and in the US. 

Future Plans 

Manitobah (Image: Lindsay Rowan)

Brand said they have multiple plans coming up, including opening multiple pop-up locations across the country, but was not able to share where these will be opening just yet. Manitobah is also going to be partnering with Nordstrom and will be making a big push in the US market as they are already popularly known in Canada. 

“We are launching our biggest season ever this fall. We will also be opening up multiple pop-up locations so those will all have grand opening events much like the one in Winnipeg. We are well known in Canada and now extending our relations into the US too and we will be doing some exciting activation events, kind of like the grand opening where we will invite community in, have educational pieces in those stores.”

While shopping in its flagship store, customers are encouraged to ask questions and its staff will know the answers as they are all a part of the Indigenous community.  

“As all the staff at the store are Indigenous – they know best. They know the product better than anybody else, they can really give good context, and there is an educational piece that comes with our product and the staff will be able to answer all of that. It has been a real honour as a Metis person who has had this company as apart of my life for a long time, seeing Sean’s success, being a bead worker myself. It has all my passions, my identity, and all my skills so it has been beautiful to be included in this company and its like nothing else I have ever experienced.”

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Article Author

Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala, based in Toronto, is a new Journalist to Retail Insider. She has experience writing for local newspapers and also internationally for Helsinki Times while she lived in Finland. Shelby holds a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College and a Social Work degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

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