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Support Syria - Buy Its Sandals. Russian Shoemonger Offers 'Made in Syria' Footware

One man figures out a way for Russia's shopping power to help out Syria's remaining economy

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Andrey Pavlov is a self-made millionaire, the owner of the Zended chain of 350 footwear stores.

He is also a patriot. That's why when Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 in Syria, he dropped his Turkish suppliers, and found Syrian shoemakers to replace them with. Bloomberg:

Pavlov, 43, said his own sense of patriotism triggered his determination to find suppliers in Syria after neighboring Turkey shot down a Russian bomber along the border. That was no easy task in a country that’s been ravaged by a conflict that’s displaced half the population and left more than 400,000 dead.

Pavlov, who served in the army in the early 1990s, said he refused to do business any more with his Turkish partners, who’d accounted for about 7 percent of Zenden’s sales.  He said associates with contacts in the Middle East put him in touch with manufacturers in Latakia, the Assad family’s political stronghold on the Mediterranean where Russia maintains an air base.

An initial batch of 10,000 women’s sandals of different designs arrived by truck to Zenden’s Russian warehouses via Iran and Azerbaijan in the first quarter. Pavlov declined to detail Zenden’s commercial arrangements in Latakia, fearing his new suppliers will be roped into making boots for Assad’s forces.

Along with his 'Made in Crimea' line the Syrian footwear has already caused a buzz on social media:

The “Made in Syria” and “Made in Crimea” shelves in most of Andrey Pavlov’s 350 Zenden stores have created a buzz on social media, luring customers and lifting revenue at the tail end of a recession that’s bankrupted two rivals.

The founder of the country’s fastest-growing chain of footwear shops grinned as he pulled out his smartphone to show a photo of the side-by-side Syria and Crimea displays that a Zenden customer had just posted on Instagram. The caption read: “Can’t decide which would be more patriotic to buy.”

Helping out a friend in need is great, but this isn't charity. Syrian imports easily compete on price and quality:

The sandals, which retail for the ruble equivalent of about $15, have proven to be a hit with consumers like Irina Ershova, a marketing manager who bought a pair last month at a Zenden outlet in the Russian capital.

“The ‘Made in Syria’ tag caught my attention, but it’s the value for money that won me over,” she said.

“The low-budget shoppers targeted by Zenden are more inclined toward patriotism,” said Galina Kravchenko, an analyst at the Moscow-based FCG research group. "Still, it’s unlikely they’d buy shoes from Crimea and Syria if the chain sold them at higher prices than other shoes.

Pavlov said the stir created by his Syrian and Crimean campaigns is worthless without competitive pricing.

Most of the 4,000 or so varieties his company offers at its various locations sell for less than $50, so the fight for “every decimal point” of margin never ends, he said.

In fact Pavlov wants many more, but he isn't sure he can get more from a country under the three-pronged assault by ISIS, US and al-Qaeda:

Pavlov said he’s trying to figure out ways to buy more footwear from Syria, where quality is high and costs are even lower than in China, which supplies almost 80 percent of his inventory.

He said the logistical and political hurdles turned out to be greater than he first anticipated, jeopardizing an original plan to order as many as 350,000 pairs of summer shoes from producers in Latakia.

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