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Footwear Imports Grow 13% in March

Footwear import growth picked up in March, according to the most recent trade data released by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), more than compensating for sluggish gains in the first two months of 2014. After growing by 3.7% on a dollar basis in 2013, footwear imports slowed in both January and February, but then surged 13 percent in March to $1.7 billion.  On a 12-month smoothed basis, footwear imports were up sharply as well.

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The average cost for a pair of imported footwear increased 5 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period a year ago, to $9.42, due to increased labor costs and shifts in product mix toward pricier styles.

Despite losing more than three percentage points of market share so far this year, China remains by far the dominant footwear supplier to the U.S., with a 68 percent share of total shoe, boot, slipper and sandal imports. The average cost per pair for footwear imported from China in January was $7.84, well below the overall average. Approximately 42 percent of the footwear imported from China is made of leather, with the balance made mostly of synthetic materials. In 2013, footwear imports from China fell 0.8% to $16.6 billion.

Vietnam gained two points of market share in the first quarter, bringing its share of U.S. footwear to almost 13 percent, a new record. Year-to-date footwear imports from Vietnam have surged by almost 20 percent on a dollar basis. Unit imports have gained over 16 percent, driving up the average pair cost by almost 3 percent year-over-year. Last year, footwear imports from Vietnam grew by over 20 percent in dollar terms, to almost $2.9 billion.

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Not surprisingly, Italy supplies our priciest footwear, at an average cost of $68.65 per pair, slightly higher than last year. In 2013 the U.S. imported $1.2 billion worth from Italy, an 8.5% increase over last year. Almost 90 percent of the footwear imported from Italy is of leather. Italy is now the third largest supplier in dollar terms to the U.S. footwear market, with a more than 5 percent share, indicating just how dominant the high end of the business has become.

Portugal is rapidly becoming a key supplier of high-end footwear as well, with shipments to the U.S. up 32 percent last year compared to 2012, to $82.3 million. The average cost of a pair of footwear from Portugal was around $50 last year, more than five times higher than the average pair. For the first three months of 2013, shoe and boot imports from Portugal, increased 24 percent compared to the same period in 2013, to $24 million. The average cost per pair increased almost 3 percent to $48 in the quarter.

Imports from Indonesia, the fourth largest source of U.S. footwear with a 5 percent share, fell 3 percent for the three months on a dollar basis, to $306 million.

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