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Footwear

Laura Venecia Rodriguez

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Change from 2017 to 2018:

  • U.S. total exports of footwear: Increased by $127 million (8.8 percent) to $1.6 billion
  • U.S. general imports of footwear: Increased by $927 million (3.6 percent) to $26.6 billion

In 2018, U.S. total exports of footwear, composed largely of footwear parts,[1] increased by $127 million (8.8 percent) (table FW.1).[2] Leading export destinations included Vietnam, to which exports (primarily footwear parts) rose sharply for the second consecutive year, by $64 million (35.5 percent). The two other leading destinations were Canada, to which exports decreased by less than $500,000 (0.1 percent), and China, to which exports (primarily footwear parts and athletic shoes) grew by $38 million (36.8 percent).

In 2018, imported footwear accounted for 99 percent (2.5 billion pairs of shoes) of the total U.S. market for footwear.[3] Fueled by stronger consumer spending on footwear,[4] U.S. imports rose by $927 million (3.6 percent) to $26.6 billion. China remained the largest supplier of footwear to the United States (table FW.1), accounting for over one-half (nearly 53 percent, or $14.1 billion) of total U.S. footwear imports in 2018. However, its share continued to shrink, declining steadily from two-thirds or nearly 66 percent of U.S. imports in 2014. In contrast, the respective shares of lower-cost, second-tier Asian suppliers—Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia—continued to climb in 2018.[5] U.S. imports from Italy and Mexico, suppliers reputed for quality leather footwear,[6] also grew in 2018, gaining $172 million (up 12.6 percent) and $84 million (up 20.2 percent), respectively, over 2017.

Table FW.1 Footwear: U.S. exports and general imports, by selected trading partners, 2014–18

 
Million $
 

Item

2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
Absolute change,
2017–18
Percent
change,
2017–18
U.S. total exports:
 

China

48

76

80

102

140

38

36.8

Vietnam

86

104

116

179

243

64

35.5

Indonesia

12

24

29

29

40

11

38.9

Italy

4

6

4

8

9

1

12.4

Mexico

49

42

40

36

33

-3

-7.9

India

2

3

1

2

3

2

102.0

Cambodia

(a)

(a)

0

0

(a)

(a)

(b)

Dominican Rep

16

11

9

7

7

(a)

-5.3

Spain

3

4

2

3

3

(a)

10.2

Canada

139

150

165

156

156

(a)

-0.1

All other

467

429

341

337

350

13

3.8

Total domestic exports

827

848

788

859

984

125

14.5

Foreign exports

629

616

579

573

575

2

0.3

Total U.S. exports (domestic and foreign)

1,456

1,464

1,367

1,432

1,559

127

8.8

U.S. general imports:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China

17,066

17,276

14,821

14,255

14,061

-194

-1.4

Vietnam

3,623

4,474

4,911

5,525

6,208

682

12.4

Indonesia

1,235

1,426

1,462

1,509

1,539

30

2.0

Italy

1,444

1,408

1,358

1,370

1,542

172

12.6

Mexico

499

493

413

416

500

84

20.2

India

349

468

503

448

440

-9

-1.9

Cambodia

128

218

255

271

329

58

21.5

Dominican Rep

297

327

312

271

257

-14

-5.2

Spain

213

224

243

233

242

9

3.7

Canada

59

73

50

52

51

(a)

-0.5

All other

1,106

1,264

1,306

1,291

1,399

108

8.4

Total general imports

26,018

27,650

25,634

25,640

26,567

927

3.6

Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Note: Import values are based on U.S. customs value; export values are based on free alongside ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations are based on unrounded data. The countries are sorted by largest total U.S. trade (U.S. general imports plus U.S. domestic exports) in these products in the most recent year.
a Less than $500,000.
b The amount of change was not meaningful for purposes of comparison.

On average, 7.4 pairs of shoes per person were imported into the United States in 2018.[7] Total consumer spending on footwear reached an estimated $82.5 billion in 2018,[8] with the rate of consumer spending rising by 3 percent, compared with an increase of under 1 percent in 2017.[9] In 2018, as in the past two to three years, sales of fashion footwear[10] remained strongly dominated by sports leisure footwear. A rebound in boots and sandals sales also contributed to the growth of fashion footwear sales, as functional fashion and comfort have become increasingly important to U.S. consumers. Footwear firms also report that their success results from their ability to differentiate their products to meet consumer demand.[11]

 

U.S. Exports

Total U.S. exports of footwear, consisting of exports and re-exports (foreign exports), rose by 8.8 percent in 2018 over the previous year after fluctuating during 2014–17. During the same period, the share of total U.S. exports accounted for by re-exports continued to fall, declining from 43.2 percent in 2014 to 36.9 percent in 2018. Canada and Mexico continued to be the largest markets for re-exports, accounting for 57.4 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively, of total U.S. re-exports in 2018.[12]

In 2018, U.S. exports, consisting primarily of footwear parts, accounted for about 28 percent of U.S. footwear industry revenue.[13] Domestically produced footwear, which supplied only 1 percent of the U.S. market in 2018, has a global reputation for high quality and durability, as well as for serving specialized niche markets. Examples include athletic shoes produced by New Balance that have value-added features such as gel arch support, as well as protective footwear and work boots, and high-end leather dress shoes.[14]

For the fifth consecutive year, Vietnam, Canada, and China were the top three export markets for U.S. producers, accounting for 25 percent ($243 million), 16 percent ($156 million), and 14 percent ($140 million), respectively, of U.S. exports of footwear by value in 2018. U.S. exports to these top markets differed, however, in their product composition and trade patterns. In 2018, U.S. exports to Vietnam rose the most by value ($64 million), compared with a $38 million increase in U.S. exports to China and virtually no change in U.S. exports to Canada. Although U.S. footwear exports to Canada encompassed a variety of shoes—leather, athletic, and work footwear—almost all (99.7 percent) of U.S. footwear exports to Vietnam were parts sent to contractors in Vietnam and used to assemble shoes for the U.S. market.[15] These exports of footwear parts to Vietnam reflect the country’s growth as a supplier of footwear to the U.S. market that offers an alternative to Chinese sources.

As with Vietnam, a large share—almost half (47 percent)—of U.S. footwear exports to China in 2018 were footwear parts used to assemble shoes for the U.S. market. However, athletic footwear also accounted for a significant share (41 percent) of U.S. footwear exports to China, more than doubling to $56.9 million in 2018 from $26.8 million in 2017. The growth in U.S. exports to China of well-known higher-end U.S. brands of athletic footwear (such as New Balance) may be attributed to a sophisticated and informed segment of the Chinese population that has a growing interest in sports, health, fitness, and fashion.[16]

 

U.S. Imports

Footwear manufacturing is highly labor intensive, and since the early 1980s, imported footwear has accounted for a majority of the footwear consumed in the United States.[17] U.S. footwear firms source much of their footwear from foreign suppliers. In particular, the firms seek to site their manufacturing in developing countries such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia to take advantage of low labor costs.[18] U.S. footwear producers have consequently focused primarily on high-value-added activities—designing, marketing, and distributing shoes.[19] Because of increased outsourcing, U.S. footwear employment has declined steadily over the past 50 years.[20]

Table FW.2 Footwear: Leading changes in U.S. exports and imports, 2014–18

 
Million $
 

Item

2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
Absolute change,
2017–18
Percent
change,
2017–18
U.S. total exports:
 

Increases:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footwear (FW001)

827

848

788

859

984

125

14.5

Total

827

848

788

859

984

125

14.5

U.S. general imports:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Increases:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footwear (FW001)

26,018

27,650

25,634

25,640

26,567

927

3.6

Total

26,018

27,650

25,634

25,640

26,567

927

3.6

Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Note: Import values are based on U.S. customs value; export values are based on free alongside ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations are based on unrounded data.

China continued to be the largest supplier of footwear to the United States in 2018 (table FW.1). However, U.S. imports from China fell by $194 million (1.4 percent) to $14.1 billion in 2018, and China’s share of total U.S. imports declined from 56 percent in 2017 to 53 percent. During the past few years, U.S. footwear firms have been diversifying their sourcing, shifting especially to other low-cost Asian suppliers because of China’s steadily rising wages and freight costs.[21] In addition, China has been reducing investment incentives in its footwear, textiles, and apparel sector to focus on high-tech industries. As a result, footwear sourcing has continued to shift to Vietnam.[22]

U.S. imports from Vietnam, the second-largest U.S. supplier, continued to grow rapidly in 2018, rising by $682 million (12.4 percent) to $6.2 billion (table FW.1). Vietnam has been capturing most of China’s lost share of U.S. imports[23] as major U.S. footwear companies like Nike have shifted much of their production from China to Vietnam and other Asian suppliers like Indonesia.[24] Vietnam’s footwear industry is not free of problems: it must import 60 percent of its raw materials,[25] and it faces productivity constraints. However, because its labor costs are competitive, its industry and the Vietnamese government are focused on expanding footwear exports in the near future.[26] Imports from two other low-cost and increasingly important Asian suppliers of footwear to the U.S. market––Indonesia and Cambodia—also increased, rising by $30 million and $58 million, respectively, in 2018.[27]

Industry sources attribute the substantial growth in U.S. footwear imports from Mexico in 2018—the second consecutive year of growth—to its proximity to the U.S. market and its capacity for manufacturing the quality leather shoes sought by certain U.S. footwear brands.[28] The increase in U.S. imports of footwear from Italy likely reflects a concerted effort on the part of the Italian footwear industry to promote “Made in Italy” shoes in the U.S. market.[29]

 


[1] Most exports of footwear parts consist of miscellaneous footwear parts not elsewhere specified and including items such as gaiters and similar articles.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, the export data used in this investigation are domestic exports. For more information on trade terminology, please refer to USITC, “Special Topic: Trade Metrics,” Shifts in U.S. Merchandise Trade, 2014, 2015, https://www.usitc.gov/research_and_analysis/trade_shifts_2014/trade_metrics.htm.

[3] FDRA, “Sourcing and Compliance: 2.5 Billion Pairs of Shoes” (accessed May 28, 2019); FDRA industry representative, email message to USITC staff, May 9, 2019.

[4] FDRA representative, email message to USITC staff, May 9, 2019; FDRA, “Sourcing and Compliance: 2.5 Billion Pairs of Shoes” (accessed May 28, 2019).

[5] Worldwide, Asia accounts for 87 percent of all footwear manufactured. Just-style, “World Footwear Production and Exports,” August 24, 2018.

[6] IBISWorld, Global Footwear Manufacturing, October 2018, 13; IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 7; Shoes from Mexico, “Mexican Leather Footwear Brands,” May 28, 2019.

[7] FDRA, “Sourcing and Compliance: 2.5 Billion Pairs of Shoes” (accessed May 28, 2019).

[8] Consumer spending is the retail value of footwear, which is several times greater than the U.S. import value. FDRA, “Shoeconomy: The Economics of the U.S. Footwear Industry” (accessed May 28, 2019).

[9] USDOC, BEA, Personal Consumption Expenditures, May 2019, table 2.4.5U. 

[10] The NPD Group, which produces market research reports on footwear, defines fashion footwear as “dress, casual, and evening shoes and slippers.” McDonald, “How Consumer Demand for Comfort Is Driving Fashion,” January 18, 2019.

[11] Two footwear executives’ presentations at the FDRA Executive Summit, April 4, 2019, addressed product differentiation: Tim Boyle, “Transformational Leadership in These Monumental Times,” and Diane Sullivan (Caleres), “Corporate Evolution 140 Years in the Making.” See also articles by Goldstein, “Fashion Footwear and Accessories,” January 18, 2019, and the NPD Group, “Leisure Sneakers Lead U.S. Footwear Sales Gains,” June 4, 2018.  

[12] USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 6–7, 2019).

[13] IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 18.

[14] IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 18, 26–29.

[15] Nike, one of the largest U.S. footwear brands, manufactures virtually all of its footwear outside the United States using independent contractors in Vietnam and other Asian countries. Nike, “NIKE 2018 Form 10-K,” 2018, 57.

[16] Daxue Consulting, “Fashion and Fitness,” March 1, 2019.  

[17] See USITC, Nonrubber Footwear, July 1985, A-26. As this report notes, in 1981, imports of footwear accounted for 51 percent of domestic consumption, whereas by 1984 they accounted for 71 percent of domestic consumption. 

[18] IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 4, 6.

[19] IBISWorld, Shoes and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 7.

[20] Based on preliminary statistics for 2018 from the U.S. Department of Labor, the estimated number of U.S. footwear workers decreased from 13,058 to 12,691 (3 percent) between 2014 and 2018. However, during the same period, the estimated number of footwear manufacturing establishments rose from 277 to 288 (4 percent). The increase in the number of footwear firms likely reflects the emergence of niche, handcrafted, and other specialized producers of shoes and higher-value-added footwear. USDOL, BLS, “Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages,” May 2019; IBISWorld, Global Footwear Manufacturing, October 2018, 17; IBIS World, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 7.

[21] IBISWorld, Global Footwear Manufacturing, October 2018, 5; IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 17.

[22] Viet Nam News, “A Billion Pairs of Shoes Exported,” March 22, 2019.  

[23] Priest and Friedman, “Sourcing Data Review and Commentary,” July 24, 2018, IBISWorld, Shoe and Footwear Manufacturing in the US, December 2018, 17; Friedman, “U.S. Footwear Imports from China Continue Slide,” June 13, 2019. 

[24] For the fiscal year that ended May 31, 2018, Nike reported that Vietnam manufactured almost half—47 percent—of Nike’s total branded footwear, compared to 26 percent for China. Nike, “NIKE 2018 Form 10-K,” 2018, 57.

[25] Raw materials for footwear manufacturing include a wide variety of inputs—leather, fabrics made from natural (e.g., cotton) yarns, and those made from synthetic (e.g., polyester, nylon) yarns, as well as rubber, plastic, and wood. Lattaway, The Fundamentals of Footwear, 2018, 57, 61, 69, 79, 83.   

[26] Viet Nam News, “Leather, Footwear Sector Needs Supporting Industry,” December 28, 2018; Viet Nam News, “A Billion Pairs of Shoes Exported,” March 22, 2019; Just-style, “Vietnam Urged to Invest,” October 30, 2018.

[27] Industry sources report that the quality of footwear sourced from the smaller Asian suppliers is comparable to that imported from China because, especially for branded footwear, most production is done by factory groups from Taiwan, South Korea, or Hong Kong that have built facilities in various countries in Asia. The factory group determines the level of quality assigned to products manufactured in a particular country. Also, for smaller brands, quality will vary more from factory to factory than from country to country. FDRA representative, email message to USITC staff, June 24, 2019.

[28] McDonald and Schneider-Levy, “Why Trump’s Latest Tariff Threat,” May 31, 2019.

[29] Italy’s footwear industry has focused increasingly on producing comfort footwear and expanding its sales to the U.S. market. The United States represents the third-largest marketplace in the leather industry and the fourth-largest in the shoe industry; it thus appeals to Italian footwear manufacturers seeking higher-volume sales. Such sales volumes are not available in Italy, which is dominated by small shops. Velasquez, “Why Italy’s Footwear Sector Is Better Prepared,” January 24, 2018. 

 

Bibliography — Footwear

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Boyle, Tim “Transformational Leadership in These Monumental Times—A Conversation with Columbia Sportswear’s Chief Advocate.” Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America Executive Summit, conference presentation, April 4, 2019.

Daxue Consulting (Beijing). “Fashion and Fitness: Licensed Sports Merchandise Market in China 2019,” March 1, 2019. https://daxueconsulting.com/licensed-sports-merchandise-market-in-china/.

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