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Demand for Italian Footwear Dips in Italy, While China Shows Growing Interest

As demand for luxury ramps up in China amid its swelling middle class, the country is taking in more Made in Italy shoes.

Italy’s footwear production fell 2.4 percent in volume in the first nine months of the year, according to data from the National Association of Italian Footwear Manufacturers, Assocalzaturifici, and the domestic market is showing no signs of a recovery.

It’s exports that’s currently driving the sector, Assocalzaturifici said.

For the first eight months of the year, Italian footwear exports increased by 3.7 percent in value terms compared to the same period in 2017. The country exported 143.6 million pairs of shoes—which marked a 3.1 percent slide in volume—though the combined 6.5 billion euro ($7.4 billion) value was a record for the January to August period.

“These figures confirm the excellence of Italian manufacturing in the high-end segment,” Assocalzaturifici chair Annarita Pilotti, said. “While, on the one hand, exports increased 2.7% in value terms to EU countries (which account for 7 out of every 10 pairs of shoes produced in Italy), non-EU sales fared even better, with increases of 4.7% in value and 3.6% in quantity, thanks especially to exports to China, that were up more than 20% in both volume and value.”

Exports to China saw the second greatest growth after Canada, which took in 23.4 percent more Italian shoes thanks to the provisional entry into force of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Though the value of exports to EU countries increased 2.7 percent, shipments were down 6 percent overall where volume is concerned. Germany proved most stable and led the region in terms of volume of Italian footwear, though exports to France were down 8.7 percent, Spain took in 9.8 percent less, and in the Netherlands, shipments of Italian shoes were down nearly 14 percent. In the U.K., the volume of Italian footwear imports dipped 1.1 percent, though in value terms they increased nearly 6 percent.

Outside of the EU, Assocalzaturifici said exports to Switzerland jumped 15 percent in volume, the Far East showed positive signs owed largely to China’s intake and an 11 percent increase in shipments to South Korea, which helped offset declines in Hong Kong and Japan.

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The U.S. took in 4.5 percent more shoes from Italy.

In the Middle East, where luxury is abundant, imports of Italian shoes dropped 7.6 percent overall, dragged down by a nearly 15 percent decline in what Saudi Arabia took in from the country. In Russia, the country’s slowdown greatly impacted its footwear imports from Italy.

“Unfortunately, the current levels for this area are almost 50% down in value compared to the same period in 2013, before the crisis,” Pilotti said. “And this explains the major difficulties being faced by companies in districts that have always focused on the Russian market and, more generally, the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, or Russian Commonwealth] area.”

What’s more, footwear consumption was weak among Italian consumers in the first nine months of the year, with shoppers taking in 0.8 percent less in quantity and spending 0.9 percent less on it, as price sensitivity remains high.

In keeping with the general athletic trend and luxury sneaker takeover, Assocalzaturifici said, “The only segment that improved was ‘sports shoes and sneakers,’ which increased by 3.6 percent in volume and 1.5 percent in value.”

As the industry shifts, the number of footwear manufacturers in business is declining, shrinking 2.5 percent compared to 2017, dragging employment in the sector down 0.4 percent, too, Assocalzaturifici said.