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Reopening Sends Footwear Imports Up 28%

All top and secondary suppliers of footwear to the U.S. market drove a 28 percent year-to-date increase in imports through May compared to the same period in 2020, reaching 898.48 million pairs, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

For the month, U.S. retailers and brands imported 184.4 million pairs, a gain of 25.8 percent, as they react to a significant rise in consumer demand following the devastating impact on the industry from the Covid pandemic’s economic fallout.

Top producer China saw its imports into the U.S. jump 30.6 percent in the comparable five-month period to 517.43 million pairs, accounting for a 57.6 market share, according to OTEXA. Imports from No. 2 supplier Vietnam rose 22.4 percent to 232.77 million pairs, giving the country a 25.9 percent market share.

This gave the two countries a combined 83.5 percent U.S. import market share. When factoring in the 6.5 percent market share of third-place supplier Indonesia–which saw its shipments increase 28.1 percent to 57.94 million pairs in the period–it means that three countries account for 90 percent of U.S. footwear imports.

The anticipation of increased footwear sales driving the import surge is evidenced by U.S. economic growth and perceived pent-up demand. While May numbers aren’t yet in, The U.S. Census Bureau reported that shoe store sales were down 10 percent in April to $3.31 billion after jumping 127 percent in March to $3.68 billion as vaccinations increased and retailers and the economy opened up.

“It has become clear that the U.S. economy and retail sales are growing far faster and more steadily than anyone could have expected just a few months ago,” National Retail Federation (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said this month. “We are seeing not just unprecedented growth from months of pent-up demand as the economy reopens but momentum as well.”

NRF now expects retail sales during 2021 to grow between 10.5 percent and 13.5 percent over 2020, to a range of $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion. That compares with the initial forecast released in February of between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent growth, totaling between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

“Our initial forecast was made when there was still great uncertainty about consumer spending, vaccine distribution, virus infection rates and additional fiscal stimulus,” Kleinhenz said. “Since then, we have seen spending grow, vaccines have become available to virtually anyone who wants one, infections have fallen and additional stimulus in the form of the American Rescue Plan has been signed into law.”