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Italian Footwear Manufacturing Continues to Decline as Innovative Talent Disappears

Long the forerunner in quality footwear manufacturing, Italy is struggling to maintain the talent needed to retain that title.

Though exports increased by 7.1 percent in value terms for the first half of 2019, according to the National Association of Italian Footwear Manufacturers, Assocalzaturifici, that served as the only positive in the sector, as the volume of exports declined year over year, and so did the workforce.

Between last year and this year, the number of footwear manufacturers fell by 119, which amounts to a 2.6 percent reduction, leading the workforce to shrink by nearly 500 workers. Component producers decreased by 75 companies, too. The value of exports only increased because the average price per pair of shoes inched up 8.2 percent to 47.55 euro ($52.46).

“Despite the performance of exports, certain difficulties still remain due primarily to chronically weak domestic consumption—after a decade of slow decline, in the first half of this year the reduction in household spending intensified [falling] 3.7 percent in quantity, with much more negative trends for traditional retail,” Assocalzaturifici noted.

Though some international luxury brands—which a large number of Italian companies manufacture for as subcontractors—saw positive performance, Assocalzaturifici said a “fairly significant” number companies are still struggling to get back on track and realize positive trends.

“There is no shortage of expanding markets (with double-figure increases in value for North America and the Far East), but these increases are often accompanied by reductions in volume,” Assocalzaturifici said. Volumes were down 4 percent for the U.S. and Canada, and an average of 1.1 percent for countries in the Far East, with Japan faring particularly poorly.

Overall footwear production in Italy fell 2.3 percent in volume terms for the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2018. Where domestic consumption was concerned, sports shoes/sneakers was the only category to perform positively, with production up 0.8 percent in volume and 2.9 percent in value. Classic men’s footwear production fell 9.5 percent, and women’s 8.3 percent.

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Looking at sales channels, online continues to increase, with spending up 17.3 percent, which accounted for 11 percent of the total sales volume in the period. Traditional retail saw pairs sold dip 11 percent and spending decline 16 percent.

As with all other countries caught in the crosshairs of trade wars and political and economic instability, Italy’s market has been further pressured by those factors. Slowing economies in China and Germany have dampened demand, and with the still looming danger of a “no deal” Brexit, times are challenged for footwear manufacturing in the country.

“To get through this difficult period we need to invest in ourselves and in our skills,” said Assocalzaturifici chair Siro Badon. “It is essential to train new professionals that are able to innovate Italian footwear manufacturing companies and fully espouse our tradition and the standards of excellence that characterize our production.”

Now, according to Assocalzaturifici, the country will be focused on training and targeted internationalization strategies to “kick-start the process of relaunching Italian footwear and confirm our global leadership,” Badon said.

“The sector is crucial for our economy and can be a driver for Italian industry as a whole,” he added.