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US Footwear Imports Match Strong Consumer Demand

The footwear sector continues to see strong consumer demand and high import levels filling the need, even as sourcing of product has been shaken up by pandemic-fueled factory lockdowns in key supplier Vietnam.

Powered largely by pent-up demand and rising average selling prices, U.S. footwear revenues grew 28 percent from January through September compared to last year and increased 8 percent versus 2019, according to The NPD Group. NPD’s “Future of Footwear” report revealed that revenue growth within the performance- and outdoor-footwear categories will outperform the growth in the overall footwear market through 2023.

“After strong growth in 2021, spurred by running and walking shoes, performance footwear is forecasted to stay steady, at rates slightly higher than before the pandemic, and unit sales will increase,” Matt Powell, sports industry advisor at NPD, said.

The latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA) showed footwear imports increased 29.9 percent to 1.65 billion pairs for the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period last year. This was a slightly slower pace than a month earlier, when footwear imports rose 31.5 percent year to date, according to OTEXA.

The pace of imports from top supplier China also pulled back a bit, with an increase of 29.8 percent in the nine-month period to 962.53 million pairs compared to a year-to-date 30.5 percent rise in the eight months through August. The steady rise in shipments for the year so far comes even as the Biden administration kept tariffs in place while the government continues “to pour billions of dollars into targeted industries and continues to shape its economy to the will of the state,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said last month.

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Vietnam’s roadblocks have come from factory closures stemming from a Covid-19 spike over the summer. Most factories seemed to have reopened, though Wolverine Worldwide CEO Blake Krueger warned this month that there will be “a bit of a ramp up” before facilities there return to normal.

Krueger told analysts this week that the company has been “proactive” this year adding capacity.

Crocs CEO Andrew Rees said late last month that most of the company’s factories in Vietnam are operational after “several weeks” of closures. Though many workers fled the country’s population centers amid the summer’s lengthy lockdown, the CEO said labor is returning and Crocs is “pretty confident” its manufacturers will get back online quickly.

However, Crocs has diversified its manufacturing base, including by moving some production back to China in the short term. Rees said Indonesia is the company’s “most immediate target.” Crocs has two factories there that it expects will come online by the end of the year and ramp up “very quickly” next year. A “major facility” in India is also a year out, he added.

Footwear imports from Vietnam were up 26.8 percent for the nine months compared to the 2020 period to 419.11 million pairs, OTEXA reported. This was down from the eight-month gain of 29.8 percent.

For the year to date though September, China and Vietnam have combined for an 83.6 percent footwear import market share, down slightly from the 83.9 percent share a month earlier, according to OTEXA.

Rounding out the Top Five suppliers, Indonesia and India showed significant increases, while Cambodia’s were more moderate.