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January Footwear Imports Up 31.5%

U.S. footwear imports got off to a strong start in January, rising 31.5 percent to 72.29 million pairs compared to a year earlier after climbing 21.8 percent in 2021, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Retailers and brands have clearly reacted to high consumer demand for footwear. According to the NPD Group’s latest “Future of Footwear” report, pent-up demand and higher average selling prices drove footwear revenues up 23 percent last year to record levels. Unit sales also grew in the double digits.

Imports from top supplier China rose 36.5 percent in the month compared January 2021 to 39.35 million pairs, despite ongoing tariffs and continued calls to lift them, especially given rising inflation. This gave China a 54.4 percent import market share for the month, up from the 54 percent it had in all of last year, OTEXA data showed.

Amid production problems that stemmed from the summer’s Covid-induced factory closures and reports of a capacity crunch, No. 2 supplier Vietnam barely squeezed out an increase for the month, with shipments inching up 0.3 percent year over year to 14.59 million pairs and a 20.2 percent market share. This was down from the 23.3 percent share it achieved in 2021.

Michael Stornant, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Wolverine Worldwide, in discussing fourth quarter results, said “production in our Vietnam factories has improved to about 70 percent of pre-closure levels, but the recovery is happening more slowly than planned.”

While China and Vietnam still dominated the sector’s imports, combining for a 74.6 percent market share, second tier suppliers also posted significant gains in the month. Imports from No. 3 supplier Indonesia increased 65.6 percent to 6.41 million pairs, while shipments from Cambodia stepped up 36.9 percent to 2.15 million pairs and imports from India rose 70.4 percent to 2.13 million pairs,

Upscale shoe-making countries Italy and Brazil also saw significant gains in the month, as did Mexico, Bangladesh and Thailand.

The footwear boom might not last forever. The NPD report said sales are expected to “level out” through 2024, as promotional activity resumes and offsets price increases. NPD predicted footwear revenue and unit sales would see single-digit increases through 2024, with total units remaining “just under” 2019 levels.