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US Footwear Imports Shake Off Last Year’s Slump with 30% First-Half Surge

U.S. footwear imports bounced back in a big way in the first half of the year, increasing 30.7 percent to 1.07 billion pairs compared to the same time in 2020, when major store closures and factory dominated the scene.

While merchants and vendors are still dealing with coronavirus-related restrictions and logistics problems, consumer demand has returned as has the need to fulfill those merchandise requirements.

Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), noted that as opposed to apparel, where sourcing diversification is underway, footwear remains dominated by two main supplier nations–China and Vietnam.

In the case of China, AAFA, the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America and other trade groups have been pushing the Biden administration to lower or eliminate tariffs imposed by the Trump administration that increased costs to companies and prices paid by consumers.

In an the amicus brief filed in support of the more than 6,000 businesses challenging the List 3 and List 4A tariffs imposed in 2018 and 2019 as unlawful, the associations argued that “the tariffs are a hidden tax on U.S. consumers, hurting domestic producers, retailers, and customers alike. And, as predicted, they have had a significant adverse impact on the U.S. economy.”

Footwear imports from China increased 32.5 percent in the six months through June to 611.9 million pairs, while shipments from Vietnam rose 25.6 percent to 221.77 million pairs. This gave the two countries’ production a combined 83.2 percent import market share.

Steve Madden has made “a big move out of China,” shifting “about half” of its women’s production to Mexico and Brazil for the fall, CEO Edward Rosenfeld told investors last month.

In the case of Vietnam, the government’s recent Covid-19 lockdown measures forced some of Puma’s suppliers to suspend operations, which represent approximately half the production the sportswear seller has in the country, CEO Bjørn Gulden said in a July earnings call.

Gulden noted that most of Puma’s partners source products from multiple countries, which benefits the brand when factories shut down in a specific market. But he acknowledged that some products that would have traditionally been shipped from South Vietnam will be delayed for at least 10 days, saying “there’s a bigger danger…that there will be bigger volumes that will be delayed.”

The rest of the Top 10 suppliers–Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Italy, Mexico, Germany, Brazil and Bangladesh–all posted significant gains in the first half.