Canadian consumers spent CAD 36 billion on clothing in 2018. It is estimated that by 2023, the total apparel sales will reach CAD 43 billion. On average, a Canadian consumer spends CAD 974 a year on clothing.
Apparel imports in Canada have grown from $10.1 to 12.5 billion CAD over the last four years. The largest supplier of clothing to Canada is China. It accounts for more than a third of total clothing imports – CAD 4.8 billion.
Thanks to the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) and the abolition of import duties, Ukrainian clothing has 18% preferences on the Canadian market compared to imports from such powerful global players as China. All this creates attractive conditions for encouraging Ukrainian clothing manufacturers to export to Canada right now.
Maria Guzman, TFO Canada Apparel Consultant, CUTIS Canadian Expert explains the specifics of the Canadian apparel market and provides three tips for Ukrainian apparel producers to succeed in Canada.
- Find your niche
There are 3 important factors for an apparel company that wanted to export its products – price, minimum quantities, and quality.
For Ukrainian apparel companies, price and minimum quantities are challenges which hard to overcome.
First, Ukrainian companies are too big or too small for the Canadian market. Even though some people think that Canada a big market, it’s not. In Canada, you just can’t find so many buyers, as in the US. The quantity Canadian buyers want to purchase is considerably small in comparison with large US buyers.
Second, Ukrainian companies just can’t compete with such countries as China, Vietnam, or Bangladesh in prices. So, they shouldn’t market their products comparing to China. What Ukrainian companies should do in that context? To find their niche.
Some Canadian companies, for example, Laura, don’t want to have all their product mix just from China or Bangladesh. They want to diversify their assortment with other countries. They know that Ukrainian production has very good quality and a good reputation from the past. Approximately 20 years ago many Canadian buyers cooperated with Ukrainian companies. Nowadays this business connection is rather small. However, I think that Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is a good reason to “press the reset button” in business relations between two countries.
Exports to Canada is like a marathon, not a short-distance run. Ukrainian companies need to be ready to compete with the whole world.
- Understand the Canadian consumer mentality
I do advise foreign companies to start their business journey in Canada from market familiarization – companies need to know how a typical Canadian clothing store looks like. They need to come to Canada and look around. What is a prototype for a typical Canadian man and woman? They need to emerge into the market and learn local mentality.
Culture is a very key issue. Ukrainian companies need to adapt their collection. Clothing from Ukraine is very classic or too open/wild/sexy. Canadian consumers are looking for something in between.
Besides, it would be nice to mention during a meeting with a Canadian buyer – yes, I visited your store, I know how you present products, I believe that my product fits your store because of this, this and this, I know your target audience, etc.
A Canadian buyer may have 120 emails a day from companies looking for an appointment. It’s crucial to persuade that exactly your product is a perfect choice.
- Be ready for export activities
The North American apparel market is very trendy. Buyers are not looking for quality unless they are looking for certain brands. Regular buyers are looking for so call fast-fashion products. Every few months is a new collection. It used to be 4 seasons for buying clothing. Not anymore. Now there are 12 seasons.
To succeed in Canada, Ukrainian producer needs to find the right buyer, to knock to the right door. It’s a challenging goal.
If you find the right buyer, try not to lose your chance – get marketing material ready, make a price list in US dollars, update your website, etc.
A website should be in English with appropriate pictures – the Canadian market is extremely sensitive to gender issues. Good homework is the keystone to success in finding a partner in Canada.
Author: Maria Guzman, TFO Canada Apparel Consultant, CUTIS Canadian Expert