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Footwear Imports Reach Record Levels in May

Footwear imports gained momentum, propelling the category to its best May ever. Imports from Vietnam continued to represent a larger part of the U.S. market, while China continued to lose the most share.

According to the most recent U.S. government data, footwear imports grew by 6.3% in May compared to the same month last year, bringing the year-to-date total to $9.9 billion, 3.1% ahead of the same period last year, up from 2.3% last month. On a 12-month smoothed basis, footwear imports rose by 2.9% in May.

The average cost for a pair of imported footwear increased by 3.3% in the first five months of the year compared to the same period one year ago, to $9.40, largely due to increased labor costs that were passed along to importers, and to healthy sales at the high end of the market.

An estimated 98 percent of footwear sold in the U.S. is imported, according to the AAFA.

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Despite losing three percentage points of market share so far this year, China remains by far the dominant supplier to the U.S., with 66 percent share of total footwear imports. The average cost per pair for footwear imported from China between January and May was $7.73, however, 18 percent below the overall average. About 39 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 has gained two points of market share so far this year, bringing its share of U.S. footwear to 13.5%, a new record. Year-to-date footwear imports from Vietnam have surged by almost 21 percent, to over $1.3 billion. Unit imports have grown by more than 17 percent, driving up the average pair cost by almost 3 percent year-over-year. Almost 42 percent of footwear from Vietnam is made of leather. Last year, footwear imports from Vietnam grew by over 20 percent in dollar terms, to almost $2.9 billion.

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Italy supplies the most expensive footwear to the U.S., at an average cost of over $72 per pair, up 1.6% over last year for the January to May period. In 2013, the U.S. imported $1.2 billion worth of footwear from Italy, an 8.5% increase over last year. Almost 90 percent of the footwear imported from Italy is made of leather. Italy is now the third largest supplier in dollar terms to the U.S. footwear market, with a more than 5.7% share, underscoring the importance of the luxury business.

Though not yet included among the top 10 trading partners, 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. For the first five months of 2014, shoe and boot imports from Portugal increased by 35 percent compared to the same period in 2013, to almost $37 million, with an average cost per pair of $46.50.

Imports from Indonesia, the fourth largest source of U.S. footwear with a 5 percent share, have fallen by almost 2 percent for the five months, to $517 million.

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