The phenomenal growth of the Chinese footwear industry over the past 20 years and its effect on world trade was the subject of a presentation by Dr Ron Whittaker, Chief Executive of SATRA Technology Centre, to the recent American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) Footwear Division board of directors meeting in Las Vegas.

He reminded delegates that China produces 54% of world footwear supply – seven times more than any other single country, and the US is the largest importer of Chinese footwear. Currently more than three-quarters of all shoes bought in US stores and shopping malls originate from China.

Dr Whittaker detailed the sophisticated supply chains that have been set up between US resourcing companies and the Chinese footwear industry. SATRA was providing valuable links in these chains through its leather accreditation, performance specification setting, product evaluation, quality systems and accredited laboratory schemes.

These services had grown considerably over the past five years and were now used by many leading resourcing brands.

He also emphasised the importance of quality of finished product to the consumer. Today’s more discerning customers expect products not to fail in wear and increasingly the 21st century supply chains used by resourcers deliver this high-quality footwear at competitive prices.

Fawn Evenson, president of AAFA’s Footwear Division, then led a discussion by the board on possible changes in resourcing footwear, particularly from China, in the next few years. While production was likely to rise in countries such as Vietnam, India and Brazil, it was agreed that Chinese footwear would dominate the US market for some years to come.

She referred to the lowering of quotas by the European industry in the next few years. While more footwear from China is likely to flow into Europe, it was felt that this would not affect the US position. The general view of AAFA, as well as SATRA, is that the industry in China will expand further – both in volume of footwear produced and geographical location.