As an event of clear international scope, Expo Riva Schuh has always seen the trade associations of the respective participating countries star as some of its key-protagonists, allowing many companies to take part in the fair and present their products to the European and Non-EU markets of reference. During a moment when the pandemic has profoundly impacted the markets and influenced the choices and habits of consumers and companies, now more than ever before it is important to listen to what the protagonists have to say on what has changed and what will be the trends for the near future.
Current situation and future prospects for the market
Starting from a snapshot of the situation in her own country along with the prospects for development, João Maia, General Manager of APICCAPS (the Portuguese Footwear, Components, and Leather Goods Manufacturers Association) confirms: “The Portuguese footwear manufacturing industry exports 95% of its production to the most demanding international markets that include in particular Germany, France, and the Netherlands. In more than one period, the COVID-19 pandemic brought traditional retail sales to a halt in all these markets and our production activity dropped-off because of this. Starting from the end of the first quarter, with the vaccination process well underway, these markets began to reopen their economies and 2021 ended with a growth of 12% on foreign markets. The performance of our industries in the last quarter of 2021 was the best ever recorded and the beginning of 2022 was very promising, with a growth in foreign sales of over 20% during the first two months of the year”.
Erkan Zandar, President of Aegean Leather and Leather Products Exporters Association (Turkey), also underlines how the process of normalization in post-pandemic Europe, connected to mass vaccinations, was the beginning of a process of economic recovery for the sector, which has given European countries an advantage over China: “In this period of recovery for the European economy, the fact that China is still closed because of the pandemic has been of critical importance for our country, which has taken advantage of the problems connected to sourcing in the supply chain and long lead times, to propose itself as an interesting alternative to Asia for buyers interested in small and medium-sized lots of production, but also for big buyers”.
Even when looking beyond European borders, and especially towards Brazil, the situation of the footwear markets seemed on its way to recovery starting in 2021, as confirmed by Leticia Sperb Masseli, Project Manager of Abicalçados: “The footwear manufacturing industry recorded a recovery in 2021, with the production of shoes growing by 9.8% for 806.3 million pairs. An increase arriving mainly from the dynamic of exports, which grew by 31.8% per pair, while even exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 7.3%: 123.7 million pairs of shoes, equal to 900.3 million dollars. The United States, the main destination for Brazilian footwear, respectively accounted for 25.4% in value and 12.3% in volume, with exports to this destination in 2021 representing the highest export number recorded in the last decade. In 2022, recovery in production and growth for exports is expected to continue. For production, in particular, a growth rate between 1.8% and 2.7% is estimated. This uptrend will be driven above all by footwear exports, which should grow in volume on an average of 9.3% compared to 2021. In dollars, in an optimistic scenario, exports should exceed the one-billion-dollar mark”.
Today, Europe, in spite of the recovery of the footwear sector, is still heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine and by the possible scenario of instability resulting from it, as confirmed by João Maia (APICCAPS): “Currently, the consequences of the evolving conflict in Europe, and the increase in the price of raw materials, along with inflation, which is already very high in some regions of the world, are critical themes that we must keep an eye on”. Themes also underlined by Nicola Tupputi, President of the Fashion Export Made in Italy Consortium: “Over the last three years, the fashion system has undergone a sharp downtrend because of the pandemic and today the economic and commercial recovery is strongly influenced by the war in Ukraine and by the increase in the price of raw materials, energy, and transportation”.
A situation with light and shadows is that of Turkey, as underlined by Erkan Zandar (AEGEAN), who confirms: “If from one end, we see that the Russian-Ukraine war has increased the demand for footwear from our country – since Ukrainian footwear manufacturers are currently excluded from the supply chain-, from the other end, the depreciation of the Ruble has led to a loss of orders from Russia, which for us is one of the most important export markets. For this reason, we will set our sights on the rest of Europe, proposing ourselves to big buyers as a country for production and investment”.
Channels and end markets
Two years of pandemic have also profoundly changed distribution channels and the countries of reference of different markets, as confirmed by Maia (APICCAPS): “In terms of distribution channels, e-commerce has grown considerably over the last few years, and this is to the advantage of brands that knew how to create a solid base of online customers, just like the companies, their suppliers, knew how to develop production models based on small series with quick response time to market, which are essential factors in digital sales”. “In terms of markets, today Portugal is focused on reinforcing its presence in the most demanding European markets, but also continuing to follow strategies for growth in important markets like Canada, the USA, and Japan”.
Always in terms of markets, Erkan Zandar (AEGEAN) comments: “2021 was a year in which we focused in particular on low volume export markets from our region. So, next to Europe and the United Kingdom, we also focused on some exotic markets like Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In the near future, we intend to increase our business volume in markets where we have relatively few commercial interactions and focus on markets that are interesting for our members like Australia, South Korea, the USA and Canada”.
Even Brazil, after the outbreak of the pandemic, began focusing on new alternative markets to the USA, which remains the market of reference par excellence: “In recent years – confirms Leticia Sperb Masseli (Abicalçados) – the countries of Latin America have shown themselves to be important players in our export strategy, followed by European and Middle Eastern countries. Our shoes are in any case present in at least 160 countries worldwide. As Abicalçados, and in collaboration with ApexBrasil, we have a programme of internationalisation for the sector that calls for the election, every two years, of markets of reference for our footwear, which are chosen in accordance with the interests of our members and following an in-depth examination of the potential markets. Currently, the list of target markets includes the United States, Columbia, the United Arab Emirates, France, and the UK”.
Increasingly popular items and trends
If we take a closer look at the market and focus on the product type and trends characterising the period, Maia (APICCAPS) confirms: “Over the last two years, the preferences of consumers have changed because of the pandemic, with an orientation primarily towards products that are more closely connected to comfort and the outdoors, while the demand for elegant and formal footwear has dropped-off. The demand for athletic, occupational, and safety footwear has grown, along with the attention to sustainable products, a segment in which also Portugal has decided to invest, with the allocation of 140 million euros to it over the next three years. We will also continue to focus our production on footwear par excellence, with a quality, user-friendly service that is appropriate for small series and small orders”.
The attention on sustainable productions is likewise confirmed by Leticia Sperb Masseli (Abicalçados): “There is an extremely high demand for products made using sustainable materials, but also an awareness, by the global customer of how it is necessary for the entire productive process to be correct in its environmental profile, as well as economically sustainable and socially fair. In this context, the Brazilian footwear industry appears to be an important alternative on a worldwide level, because Brazilian producers have been invested for some time now in the sustainability of the product, with the development of sustainable lines, collections, and brands, but also processes and company management”. Even comfort appears to be a trend characterised by a strong growth rate: “Over the years, Brazilian companies have specialised themselves in the comfort sector, looking to increasingly improve and incorporate technologies capable of guaranteeing maximum well-being for the feet of adults and children, through the introduction of anatomic insoles, hi-tech materials, and systems of shock absorption typical of sports shoes, etc”.
Instead, as far as footwear production in Turkey is concerned, Erkan Zandar (AEGEAN) confirms that the demand of the European market, which is the one of reference for Turkey, is especially focused on daily wear products in leather and on comfort, like gym shoes, slippers…
The trade associations at Expo Riva Schuh
Finally, we asked the associations what the main reason is for their participation with their collectives at Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags and what their expectations are in terms of business and contacts. Zandar (AEGEAN) confirms with conviction that: “Expo Riva Schuh is the most important and efficient fair in Europe, thanks to its product base with added value and a competitive price range. This is the reason why, after our first participation in January 2019, we are present today in this exhibition complex with an extensive delegation and our focus is on guaranteeing the continuity of our participation and on reinforcing our connection with the fair over time, proposing ourselves as reliable and quality partners/suppliers for the European and Non-EU footwear market”.
Of the same opinion is also João Maia (APICCAPS): “Today, the Portuguese footwear industry exports over 95% of its production to 170 countries in all five continents. For this reason, the participation in international events is fundamental. Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags represents an event of reference for the sector, which deserves all our attention”.
The trust placed in the validity and effectiveness of Expo Riva Schuh for the footwear industry is confirmed once again by the Brazilian footwear industry, which has been present for over 15 years at the fair of Riva del Garda with the support of the Brazilian Footwear programme: “Even when considering the reconfigurations of the global market, we can say that Expo Riva Schuh remains fundamental for the strategy of Brazilian exporters and our expectations for the June edition are without a doubt extremely positive” – confirms with conviction Leticia Sperb Masseli (Abicalçados).
Made in Italy itself has always benefitted from the international scope of Expo Riva Schuh and from its role as the first appointment on the fashion fair calendar, as confirmed by Nicola Tupputi – Fashion Export Made in Italy Consortium: “For so-called ‘volume footwear’ and for the last 40 years, Expo Riva Schuh has represented an essential event for our businesses, as well as a thermometer for gauging changes in the footwear market as a whole. Now, more than ever before, and in consideration of the changed international scenario, this 97th edition will offer members of the trade precious indications on how to orient themselves with regards to products, investments, and future assets”.