Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canada's Bootmakers Warm to Cold Snap Quebec Shoe Manufacturers Stay Profitable in the Cold, despite Competition from Abroad

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canada's Bootmakers Warm to Cold Snap Quebec Shoe Manufacturers Stay Profitable in the Cold, despite Competition from Abroad

Article excerpt

ATHERMOMETER reading minus 25 degrees F does not faze the people of Acton Vale, a town halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. They love to hear that it is freezing in Atlanta or that government offices have closed in Washington. In this small town of 5,000, cold weather means jobs.

Boot sales "started slow, but demand has been strong ever since the first storm hit on Dec. 23 and was followed by this ... cold weather," says Francois Gagne, president of Acton Rubber, the larger of the two big winter-boot manufacturers here.

The Acton Rubber factory makes waterproof winter footwear, from toe rubbers that slip over shoes to Arctic boots that cover the calf - guaranteed to keep your toes warm in temperatures up to minus 90 degrees F. "This is the warmest boot in the world," Mr. Gagne says.

Acton Rubber sells versions of the boot to soldiers in Canada, Denmark, and Germany. Military footwear frequently makes up as much as 30 percent of the factory's production.

The firm, with 350 employees, is operating at almost peak production, at a time of year when business is usually slow. Gagne wants to get the spring and summer production, including farm and hunting boots, out of the way since he will be making many cold-weather boots this summer. "This tough winter will mean people will be ordering more boots for next winter," he says.

A successful shoe and boot business in Canada is supposed to be an economic impossibility. When the rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) changed in the 1970s, there were predictions that Canada's shoe industry would close down completely as it became swamped by cheap imports. But despite a number of plant closures, 65 shoe manufacturers still operate in Quebec alone.

"What we've done is specialize in winter footwear," Gagne says. "We know about winter and we know how to make winter footwear. They don't know anything about cold-weather boots in Indonesia."

Canada makes about 20 percent of its own shoes; the rest is imported from countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, and Italy. Yet some types of footwear are made almost exclusively in Canada.

Take the toe rubber, for example. Acton Rubber makes about 90 percent of the toe rubbers sold in Canada. …

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