Laura V. Rodriguez
(202) 205-3499

Change in 2013 from 2012:

  • U.S. trade deficit: Increased by $903 million (4 percent) to $23.8 billion
  • U.S. exports: Decreased by $36 million (4 percent) to $789 million
  • U.S. imports: Increased by $868 million (4 percent) to $24.6 billion

In 2013, the U.S. trade deficit in footwear (a category that also includes footwear parts) grew by $903 million (4 percent) as U.S. imports rose by $868 million and U.S. exports fell by $36 million (table FW.1). U.S. exports declined for a second consecutive year from a five-year peak of $832 million in 2011. Although U.S. exports to most leading export destinations fell in 2013, U.S. exports to Vietnam (primarily footwear parts) rose $21 million (up by 54 percent), while those to Canada rose $9 million (8 percent).

Table FW.1 Footwear: U.S. exports of domestic merchandise, imports for consumption, and merchandise trade balance, by selected countries and country groups, 2009–13
Table FW.1 Footwear: U.S. exports of domestic merchandise, imports for consumption, and merchandise trade balance, by selected countries and country groups, 2009–13Imports supplied over 98 percent of domestic demand in 2013.147 China remained by far the largest supplier of footwear to the United States, accounting for 69 percent of all U.S. footwear imports. China’s share was down from 72 percent in 2012 as other Asian producers, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, increased their respective shares of the U.S. market at China’s expense.

U.S. consumer spending on footwear rose by 2 percent between 2012 and 2013, and sales at U.S. shoe stores increased 1.3 percent during the same period, down from 5 percent growth between 2011 and 2012. Industry sources report that expenditures on fashion footwear categories—namely outdoor and men’s casual shoes—experienced the largest growth, at 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The boost in sales of casual shoes reflects an apparent style trend “from business and dress attire to an ‘anything goes’ look with work attire.”

U.S. Exports

Canada, Korea, and Vietnam were the top three export markets for U.S. producers; these countries accounted for 16 percent, 11 percent, and 8 percent, respectively, of U.S. exports of footwear by value in 2013. U.S. exports of footwear to Vietnam rose by the largest percentage and amount, up by $21.1 million (54 percent) to $60.1 million. However, virtually all of the U.S. footwear exported to Vietnam consisted of footwear parts used to assemble footwear for the U.S. market. U.S. exports of footwear to Canada grew by $9 million (8 percent) to $125 million, whereas U.S. exports to Korea fell for the first time since 2009, down sharply by $17.6 million (17 percent) to $83.7 million. Other significant markets for U.S. footwear exports in 2013 were Japan, China, and Mexico. U.S. exports to all three of these markets fell in 2013.

Exports account for a significant source of revenue for domestic footwear manufacturers, totaling an estimated 32 percent of industry revenues in 2013.154 U.S. production of footwear is concentrated in niche markets—rubber/fabric footwear, men’s work shoes, and plastic/protective footwear. In addition, U.S. footwear manufacturers compete on the basis of non-price factors such as specialized types of footwear (e.g., hard-to-find sizes/widths and hand-sewn items), quality, design, exclusive channels of distribution, new product introductions, and brand differentiation. American-made shoes have developed a reputation for high quality and value (high-end athletic shoes, for example) that in recent years has enabled them to make inroads into Asian markets such as Korea. In contrast, footwear parts, including removable insoles, heel cushions, and gaiters, which made up just slightly over one fourth of U.S. exports in 2013, are generally used in low-cost countries (such as China and Vietnam) to assemble final goods that are imported back into the United States.


U.S. Imports

U.S. imports of footwear increased by $868 million (4 percent) to $24.6 billion in 2013 as the U.S. economy continued to strengthen. Demand growth was filled primarily by low-cost imports from Asia, which increased by $625 million between 2012 and 2013. U.S. imports of footwear also grew from Italy (up $125 million) and Mexico (up $56 million).

Most of the growth in Asian imports in 2013 came from Vietnam and Indonesia. Imports from these suppliers rose by $510 million (21 percent) and $219 million (23 percent), respectively, with a small portion of that increase perhaps reflected in a $151 million (0.9 percent) decrease in U.S. imports from China in 2013. Vietnam’s General Statistics Office and the Vietnam Leather, Footwear, and Handbag Association reported that Vietnam’s total footwear exports reached a record high in 2013, which likely can be attributed to Vietnam’s relatively low labor costs compared to other footwear exporters and to the expansion of footwear production by foreign investors in anticipation of expected benefits from the TPP.

Although China remains the largest supplier of footwear imports to the United States, U.S. imports of footwear from China fell by $151 million (1 percent) in 2013. U.S. footwear firms continued to move to a “China plus one” sourcing strategy to diversify away from China and offset rising costs.

Because footwear production is highly labor intensive, U.S. producers have moved much of their production and sourcing of footwear to low-cost suppliers abroad, focusing on branding and design in the United States. For example, Nike manufactured 98 percent of its footwear overseas using independent contract manufacturers in Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. As U.S. producers have increasingly relied on foreign sources for footwear, the U.S. industry has continued to shrink. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of domestic footwear manufacturing establishments fell from 302 to 276 and the workforce decreased from 14,222 to 13,948.

Whereas Asian producers largely supply inexpensive shoes, manufacturers in Italy specialize in making high-quality, high-value leather designer footwear. Italy remains an important supplier to the high-end U.S. market and was the third-largest supplier of footwear to the United States in 2013. Mexico has also expanded as a supplier of footwear to the U.S. market in recent years, garnering a reputation for innovative designer shoes. U.S. imports of footwear from Mexico rose by $56 million (11 percent) in 2013 from 2012.