Footwear

Author: Laura V. Rodriguez
International Trade Analyst

Change in 2015 from 2014:

  To view changing data, mouseover the graphic below.
  • U.S. total exports: Increased by $3.0 million (0.2 percent) to $1.5 billion
  • U.S. general imports: Increased by $1.6 billion (6.3 percent) to $27.7 billion

In 2015, U.S. total exports of footwear grew by $3 million (0.2 percent) (table FW.1). Leading export destinations included China to which exports rose by $29 million (59.8 percent), Vietnam to which exports (primarily footwear parts) grew by $17 million (20.0 percent), and Canada to which exports increased by $10 million (6.8 percent). Imports supplied slightly over 98 percent1 of the U.S. footwear market and increased by $1.6 billion (6.3 percent) to $27.7 billion in 2015. Although China remained by far the largest supplier of footwear to the United States, accounting for 62 percent of total U.S. footwear imports in 2015, its share was down from 66 percent in 2014. In contrast, the respective shares of lower-cost suppliers such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, rose in 2015. Also, U.S. imports from Italy, which supplies primarily higher-priced leather footwear, fell for the first time since 2011, by 2 percent.

Table FW.1: Footwear: U.S. exports and general imports, by selected trading partners, 2011–15

 
Million $
 
Item 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Absolute change, 
2014–15
Percent
change, 
2014–15
U.S. exports of domestic merchandise:              
    China 56 47 44 48 76 29 59.8
    Vietnam 54 39 60 86 104 17 20.0
    Indonesia 12 12 9 12 24 12 105.1
    Italy 6 4 4 4 6 1 26.7
    Mexico 65 57 44 49 42 -7 -15.1
    India 4 4 3 2 3 (a) 13.1
    Dominican Rep 26 26 21 16 11 -5 -31.1
    Spain 4 2 2 3 4 1 48.9
    Canada 94 117 126 139 149 10 6.8
    Cambodia 0 0 (a) (a) (a) (a) -72.1
    All other 512 515 476 466 428 -38 -8.2
        Total domestic exports 833 824 789 826 846 20 2.4
Foreign exports 457 509 603 629 612 -17 -2.7
Total U.S. exports (domestic and foreign) 1,290 1,332 1,391 1,455 1,458 3 0.2
U.S. general imports:              
    China 16,723 17,147 17,016 17,064 17,277 213 1.2
    Vietnam 2,046 2,410 2,931 3,622 4,473 851 23.5
    Indonesia 770 940 1,155 1,234 1,425 191 15.5
    Italy 1,116 1,202 1,330 1,444 1,415 -28 -2.0
    Mexico 371 492 549 499 494 -5 -1.0
    India 206 266 297 349 468 119 34.0
    Dominican Rep 210 242 274 297 327 30 9.9
    Spain 143 164 186 213 224 12 5.5
    Canada 55 49 47 58 73 14 24.3
    Cambodia 43 44 59 128 218 90 69.9
    All other 971 929 967 1,105 1,265 160 14.5
        Total general imports 22,654 23,887 24,811 26,014 27,660 1,646 6.3

Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 2011–15 period. These reflect all official revisions of previously published data up to June 2015 (accessed February 10, 2016).
Note: Import values are based on Customs value; export values are based on free along ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations based on unrounded data. The trading partners shown are those with the largest total U.S. trade (U.S. general imports plus U.S. domestic exports) in these products in the current year. Re-exports (also called foreign exports) are further defined in the “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs).
aLess than $500,000.

U.S. consumer spending on footwear rose by 1.5 percent between 2014 and 2015.2 The “athleisure” trend remains strong and has continued to fuel spending on athletic footwear,3 U.S. sales of which grew by 8 percent to $17.5 billion in 2015.4 The “hiking/lite hiking” and cold/all-weather boots categories experienced particularly strong sales—U.S. consumers have been seeking “versatile” footwear with “multiple applications.”5 Other key drivers of consumer footwear spending are branding, fashion, and product innovation.6

American-made shoes, which supplied 1.6 percent of the U.S. footwear market in 2015, have a global reputation for high quality and value and are concentrated in specialized niches. Niches included plastic/protective footwear (military boots, firemen's boots, and work boots), high-end athletic shoes, and leather dress shoes.7 Canada, Vietnam, and China were the top three export markets for U.S. producers, accounting for 17.8 percent, 12.4 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, of U.S. domestic exports of footwear by value in 2015. U.S. exports of footwear to China grew the fastest, rising by $29 million (59.8 percent). Although more than half of U.S. footwear exports to China were composed of footwear parts used to assemble shoes for the U.S. market, Chinese demand for finished U.S. footwear grew in 2015 as incomes in China have increased and as Chinese consumers have sought alternate luxury brands to those in Europe.8 The $17 million (20 percent) growth in U.S. exports of footwear to Vietnam (primarily footwear components used to assemble footwear in Vietnam for the U.S. market) likely reflects increased footwear production in Vietnam in anticipation of the TPP's proposed tariff reductions and elimination of other trade barriers for goods imported from Vietnam.9 U.S. footwear exports to Canada grew for the fifth consecutive year, rising by $10 million in 2015. The steady growth in U.S. footwear exports to Canada can be attributed to Canadian consumers' high regard for U.S. footwear and to trade preferences under the North American Free Trade Agreement.10

U.S. Exports11

Total U.S. exports of footwear (consisting of domestic exports and re-exports) grew steadily during 2011–15, rising by 0.2 percent in 2015 over the previous year. A steady increase in re-exports had been driving much of the growth in total U.S. exports of footwear in recent years and accounted for 42 percent ($612 million) of total U.S. footwear exports in 2015. However, re-exports of U.S. footwear fell by $17 million (2.7 percent) in 2015, the first decline since 2011 (see tabulation below). U.S. footwear re-exports are shipped primarily to neighboring markets; Canada and Mexico are the largest, accounting for 57 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of U.S. footwear re-exports in 2015.12 Footwear re-exports account for a significant share of total U.S. footwear exports because of the significant advantages firms gain by using U.S. foreign trade zones. Advantages include the cost savings of importing products into the United States free of duty,13 avoiding the financial burden and paperwork associated with duty drawback,14 the operational efficiencies resulting from streamlining distribution and inventory management within the zones, and the ability to more easily meet U.S. Customs requirements.15 The $17 million decrease in footwear re-exports in 2015 may be attributed to the establishment of several third-party logistics providers in Canada; the presence of these firms enabled U.S. footwear firms to ship directly to Canada rather than through U.S. foreign trade zones.16

U.S. Imports

China remained by far the largest supplier of footwear to the United States. U.S. imports from China rose by just over 1 percent to $17.3 billion during 2014—15, but its share of imports dropped from 66 percent to 63 percent. The slowdown in the growth of U.S. imports from China reflects numerous challenges China's footwear industry has been facing in recent years. They include rising labor, material, and freight costs; labor shortages; employee turnover; and closures.17

As a result, U.S. footwear firms have been diversifying their sourcing, relocating production from China to lower-cost Asian suppliers such as Vietnam and Indonesia. U.S. imports from Vietnam have grown rapidly during the past few years. Nike reports that, in fiscal 2015, contract factories in Vietnam manufactured about 45 percent of total Nike brand footwear compared to 32 percent for China.18 And, most recently, in anticipation of the duty-free imports and other benefits associated with the TPP, large U.S. footwear companies such as Wolverine, a U.S. firm that specializes in work boots, began expanding footwear production in Vietnam before the signing of the TPP agreement.19 In 2015, U.S. imports from Vietnam rose by $851 million (23 percent) to $4.5 billion. Nevertheless, an industry source noted that China still dominates footwear sourcing because it remains unrivaled in its capacity and output.20

For more than a decade, U.S. firms have been outsourcing production of footwear, which is highly labor intensive, to low-cost countries, while retaining high value-added design, marketing, and distribution of shoes in the United States.21 Although the number of U.S. footwear workers is estimated to have increased between 2010 and 2015, rising from 13,151 to 13,348, the number of domestic footwear manufacturing establishments fell from 286 to 274 during this period.22

 

 

1 Based on preliminary estimates for 2015, U.S. footwear industry representative, email to USITC staff, April 5, 2016.
2 USDOC, BEA, Personal Consumption Expenditures, April 2016, table 2.4.5U.
3 Industry sources report that the “sneaker culture” has become a dominant force worldwide because of the global adoption of casual dress and merging of high fashion with athletics. Footwear News, “Editor's Note: Sneaking Abounds,” April 4, 2016, 4.
4 NPD Group, “U.S. Athletic Footwear Industry Grows 8 Percent,” February 8, 2016.
5 NPD Group, “Outdoor Footwear Market Experiences Big Uptick,” June 2015.
6 Product differentiation based on product innovation that includes new styles of footwear with added features, such as air pocket soles for outdoor activities, is a principal factor that consumers use at the point of purchase, apart from price.  NPD Group, Inc. “Outdoor Footwear Market Experiences Big Uptick,” June 2015; Amobi, “Industry Surveys: Textiles, Apparel and Luxury Goods,” January 2016, 40; IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 23.
7 U.S. footwear industry representative, email messages to USITC staff, February 24 and April 5, 2016; IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 12.
8 IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 17. 
9 Phuong, “U.S. Firms Move Footwear Factories to Vietnam,” November 11, 2014.
10 IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 8, 18.
11 As appropriate, this section will address total exports, domestic exports, and re-exports.
12 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (commodity group FW001; accessed February 10, 2016).
13 U.S. footwear industry representative, email message to USITC staff, April 14, 2016.
14 Duty drawbacks are a “refund, reduction or waiver in whole or in part of customs duties assessed or collected upon importation of an article or materials which are subsequently exported.” U.S. Customs website, http://www.cbp.gov/trade/nafta/guide-customs-procedures/effect-nafta/en-drawback-duty (accessed April 14, 2016).
15 U.S. footwear industry representative, email message to USITC staff, April 14, 2016.
16 U.S. footwear industry representative, email message to USITC staff, April 11, 2016.
17 IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 17; Footwearbiz.com, “Shoe Factory Closes in Putian,” January 28, 2016; Footwearbiz.com, “China's Share of U.S. Footwear Market,” February 11, 2016.
18 Nike, Inc. “2015 Annual Report and Notice of Annual Meeting: Form 10-K,” 67.
19 Footwearbiz.com, “Wolverine Worldwide to Shift Production from China to Vietnam,” November 12, 2014; Phuong, “U.S. Firms Move Footwear Factories to Vietnam,” November 11, 2014.
20 Sutherlin, “Four Must-Watch Sourcing Hot Spots,” August 19, 2015.
21 IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2015, 7.
22 The 2015 data are based on preliminary statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. USDOL, BLS, “Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages” (accessed April 12, 2016).