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Here’s What Happened With First-Quarter Footwear Imports

Vietnam was the only top footwear supplier to U.S. brands and retailers to post a decline in imports in the first quarter, new data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA) showed, as the country’s hangover from Covid-fueled factory closures lingered.

While U.S. footwear imports increased 25.4 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2021 to 680.28 million pairs, shipments entering American ports from No. 2 supplier Vietnam slipped 4.5 percent to 131.15 million pairs, according to OTEXA.

When New Balance, like Nike, Puma, Under Armour and most of its sneaker competitors, saw supply from Vietnam plummet last summer as Covid-induced lockdowns in and around Ho Chi Minh City forced factories to cease production for nearly three months, the company was able to shift production to other countries, according to Duncan Scott, New Balance’s senior vice president of strategic sourcing and quality.

“We did not have an easy way out of it,” Scott, who participated in a discussion hosted by Cornell University last month, added. “We essentially had to spread out our production and concentrate it. We had more sources and then we had a shorter period of time to produce.”

Meanwhile, China remained the No. 1 footwear supplier to the United States, with imports growing 34.5 percent year over year in the first quarter to 435.14 million pairs. However, with continued tariffs and political strife, there’s a steady movement among sourcing executive to spread out production.

DSW parent Designer Brands Inc. (DBI) is planning to pull back on manufacturing in China as it looks to double owned brands sales by 2026, get products to consumers quicker and roll out a new digitally integrated store format.

At the company’s annual Investor Day in April, Bill Jordan, president and chief growth officer, said DBI is committing to cut its percentage of China-sourced goods from 80 percent to 50 percent by 2024.

“The reality is we don’t want to be that invested in one country,” Jordan said. “We want to be able to source every category of goods that we make in at least two countries. Doing that will diversify and limit our risk, but will also open up speed and cost opportunities for us.”

China and Vietnam continue to dominate the sector, combining for 83.2 percent of U.S. import market share, according to OTEXA data. However, second-tier countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia also saw their shipments grow in the period, as did smaller suppliers India, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Bangladesh and Germany.