Depending on where you live, shoes are considered more than a necessity to protect your feet as you walk – they are viewed as status symbols. Young children wishing to emulate a favorite athlete will seek the brand they wear, and television shows like Sex and the City place emphasis on designers like Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. The global footwear industry is quite profitable and as diverse as the demographics to which it markets. According to IbisWorld, footwear accounted for over $ 100 billion in overall trade in 2007 and is expected to increase in the next decade.
The health of the footwear industry is also dependent on various resources: textiles, plastics, and natural and synthetic rubber. Some companies may focus on a general product like all-purpose sneakers and athletic shoes, while others provide footwear for a specific use – dance shoes, steel-toed boots for heavy labor, and infant shoes. According to Allure Magazine, the average American woman may own as many as twenty-seven pairs of shoes, so one can argue a demand for new product will always exist.
Quick Facts About the Footwear Industry
According to Intertek:
- Consumers in the United States alone purchased nearly 2.5 million pairs of shoes in 2006.
- Of the shoes purchased in the United States, nearly 99% of them were imported.
- As global population is expected to rise five-fold in 2050 (source: World Resources Institute), consumption of footwear will double every two decades.
- In response to the need for sustainable and eco-friendly production, many companies have started using biodegradable materials in products and packaging, as well as recycling old shoes for new purposes.
Major Exporters of Footwear
As one may expect, Asia is a larger exporter of footwear. Here's how the trade breaks down by country:
- China – Footwear comprises a significant percentage of China's overall $ 1.9 trillion export income. While the US is a large partner in export trade, China also ships large numbers of shoes to Russia.
- Indonesia – According to the Jakarta Post, the country's footwear manufacturing industry has greatly boosted the economy. Over the last several years, companies have relocated to Indonesia from Taiwan and South Korea, and many hold license to popular brands.
- Vietnam – More than ten percent of the country's overall exports are footwear, shipped to the United States, Japan, and China.
Major Importers of Footwear
As noted earlier, the United States imports nearly all available shoes on the market. Other top importers include:
- China – Despite their status as a top exporter, the Chinese also import foreign-made shoes, particularly leather styles (source: Duke University).
- Germany – With European footwear manufacturing on the decline due to the move of companies off-shore, countries like Germany depend upon imports of shoes.
- France – Similar to Germany and other nations in the EU, France imports a good percentage of footwear for consumption.
The Future of the Industry
The global footwear industry faces many challenges in terms of increasing sustainability. According to Intertek, pollution is a problem that cannot be ignored for much longer. In China alone, more than 200 million metric tons of waste water were produced in 2009 as a result of shoe manufacturing. Research into environmentally friendly resources like vegetable-tanned leathers, natural rubber, and hemp will determine the changes that need to be made to make footwear production less toxic while maintaining integrity. As global population continues to increase, so will the demand for product.