The global polyurethane (PU) sole market is expected to grow from $4.55 billion in 2018 to $5.79 billion by 2023, driven by its increased usage in sports, leisure and work styles, according to a report by Markets and Markets.
“PU Sole (Footwear Polyurethane) Market by Footwear Type, Raw Material and Region—Global Forecast to 2023” dives into the market realities for PU sole makers and the designers that incorporate them. Researchers estimated that the market will grow by a compounded annual growth rate of 4.9 percent over the next five years, increasing the size of the market by more than $1 billion.
“Polyurethane is used in footwear to provide the perfect combination of ergonomics, microclimate, and comfortable experience. The superior properties of polyurethane as shoe sole material, growth in footwear sales, and increasing production in the growing economies are expected to drive the PU sole market,” researchers explained.
Adopters of PU soles favor them for their durability, leading to their use in a variety of styles, researchers said. Outdoor footwear incorporates PU into its soles to increase strength. Meanwhile, sandal and slipper manufacturers can also use the material to construct a cost effective and sturdy silhouette, reflecting the wide application of the material. However, researchers predict a significant portion of the growth in the market will rely on the accelerating leisure footwear segment and its propensity to use PU soles.
“The material selection for the soles [of leisure footwear styles] is a key factor as the soles play a major role in providing comfort to users,” researchers said. “The use of polyurethane insoles offers greater flexibility, durability, and comfort, which is driving the demand in this segment.”
Regardless, slippers and sandals will remain the overall largest PU sole footwear segment during the forecast period, which the report attributes to consumer preferences for the styles in growing and developing countries.
As the demand for footwear grows, more brands are using PU soles in their shoe designs due to the ease and low cost involved in acquiring the material and its relative strength—naturally increasing the demand for footwear polyurethane, according to the report. This is evidenced by the corresponding increase in the market for polyols, a commonly chemical-based component that is necessary to produce polyurethane, as opposed to more expensive biologically derived substitutes, the study noted. Polyols are expected to be the primary segment for the entirety of the forecast period, as well.
The leading raw material to produce polyurethane, methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), will also help drive the market’s demand for PU soles, thanks to its “high degree of stiffness and resilience.”
And when it comes to demand for PU soles in footwear, it varies by market. Overall, Markets and Markets expects the Asia-Pacific region to be both the largest and fastest growing market for PU with gains primarily being driven by the growth of footwear production in India, Indonesia and Vietnam. China will lead the way in both demand and production.
On a less positive note, however, the industry is currently beset by health and safety concerns resulting from the manufacturing of PU using toxic chemicals. MDI, and a similar material known as TDI, are highly toxic and emit dangerous toxins at room temperature which exceed the permissible limits established by OSHA.
Still, major players in chemical engineering, including German chemical firm, BASF, have begun to devote R&D resources to the advancement of the chemicals involved in PU production and have heavily invested in new production plants in the APAC region.