At Men’s Market Portuguese Footwear Out to Conquer U.S.

Over the last ten years, Portuguese footwear sales have increased over 60 percent, according to figures from the Portuguese footwear association, APICCAPS, and each year over 82 million pairs of shoes are exported worldwide from Portugal for a total value of over 2 billion dollars. But Portugal has set its sights specifically on the U.S. for its next major push. “Made in Portugal,” an initiative to promote the country’s craftsmanship and manufacturing will take place during footwear trade event, PROJECT Sole in New York. "But Portugal has set its sights specifically on the U.S. for its next major push during next week's MRket trade show.

To understand why Portugal’s eyes are on America’s feet, and in anticipation of the launch, we speak to the two brains behind it: Luís Onofre, the president of the Portuguese footwear association, APICCAPS, and Leslie Gallin, the President of Footwear, UBM Fashion which organizes the Men's Market trade show, a 3-day fair at the Javis Center later this month in New York.

How do you explain the growth of interest in Portuguese footwear in recent years?

Onofre: The Portuguese footwear industry has the ability to combine tradition with the latest technologies and know-how accumulated through generations, together with cutting-edge design. It is very sought after, but for a long time Portuguese footwear invested mainly in Europe. However, it is currently in 152 countries over five continents.

Gallin: From a manufacturing standpoint many companies are looking for higher quality construction as they move production out of China. Portugal has invested in their factories and are producing high quality men’s and working on the same for women’s footwear. From a retailer point of view, the country is open to buying groups, meaning 2-3 retailers working as one directly with the brands to manufacture and provide better pricing, thus a better margin for retailers.

At Men’s Market Portuguese Footwear Out to Conquer U.S.

When much of the current narrative revolves around ways to bring back the “Made in the U.S.” label, why should consumers/retailers care about “Made in Portugal”?

Onofre: There are enough opportunities for all. We believe in a logic of free, fair, and balanced trade.

Gallin: Footwear is a complicated product. The cost of producing shoes in the U.S.A. faces many issues––craftsmanship (the tradesman are just not here) and then of course labor and materials. Shoes unlike other products have always been made elsewhere and imported. Yes, there are brands producing footwear here in the U.S.A. and we strongly support those companies and help them promote during our shows.

This launch is taking place during the menswear market – do you plan on a similar push for womenswear?

Onofre: Portugal is actually stronger in women’s footwear. Although we already export 70 million euros in footwear to the U.S.A. we believe we can consolidate our position in the next five years. We’re in the U.S.A. for good. Our idea is to make a global presentation of Portuguese footwear. We’re sure that when the American customers discover our quality they won’t trade it for anything else.

Gallin: The entry point is in NY to create the awareness of products from Portugal––apparel and footwear––Portugal will then have over 20 brands exhibiting at FN PLATFORM, our shoe show in Las Vegas next month. The footwear brands exhibiting during the dual-gender marketplace are both Men’s and Women’s. The initial entry push is with footwear.

At Men’s Market Portuguese Footwear Out to Conquer U.S.

Do Portuguese footwear brands seek to compete on price, where China has dominated, or luxury where Italy has traditionally led the way?

Onofre: Portugal has a solid and sustained footwear industry that has been growing for eight consecutive years and presents a high quality product at a competitive price. Our product is not very different from the Italian. However, the price is much more interesting.

Are Portuguese brands addressing sustainability and responsible processes in their sourcing and manufacturing?

Onofre: Unquestionably. Approximately 80 percent of the Portuguese footwear is made with leather. However, in Portugal we also have one the most modern technological centers worldwide and, therefore, we have been developing several new, sustainable, and environmentally friendly materials, topped with premium quality finishings. We have been investing a lot in that area.

It has been said that Portugal’s lack of a globally recognized luxury house (France and Italy have multiple, Britain has Burberry, Spain has Loewe…) has affected how it has been perceived in the past. Your response?

Onofre: We’re taking strong steps in that area. It’s difficult for a small country like Portugal to have internationally reputed luxury brands. However, we have several very, very interesting small brands, which just need an opportunity to show their real value.

Gallin: The time is ripe for Portugal to emerge in both fashion apparel and footwear.

PROJECT Sole will kick off the partnership during the July Marketplace, which runs July 22nd through July 24th at the Jacob Javits Center and follow with a showcase during MAGIC Las Vegas where over 20 men’s and women’s Portuguese footwear brands will show their SS19 collections, many for the first time.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos by PRConsulting