Portugal’s shoe industry in challenging times
Famous Portuguese shoe designer Luís Onofre who has just been reelected as the industry’s president in Portugal, says the industry is going through one of its “most difficult periods”.
In an interview with the Portuguese footwear association (APICCAPS) newspaper, Onofre says he went for reelection because the “Portuguese footwear industry is currently going through one of the most difficult periods of its history. For that reason, I accepted to run again as we embark on a new term fully aware of what at stake.”
Onofre said that the pandemic is having an impact not seen since the war, with drastic falls in demand and serious disruptions to supply chains.
“We are currently facing, and will face in the near future, a very demanding transition period full of uncertainties at all levels. However, the international footwear market was already undergoing a profound transformation before the pandemic, with changes in consumption patterns, as well as the establishment of new business models that are linked to new technologies and the digital world.”
All these sudden changes have forced us to question what we were used to doing. Now, more than ever, I believe that we need to join forces and reinvent ways to keep our industry alive and healthy,” he says.
Onofre says that the Portuguese footwear industry can be proud of what it has accomplished over the last few decades. “The Portuguese footwear industry’s success is from the quality of our products and hard work. However, we’re going to have to do a lot more and do it better so we can say the same thing 10 or 20 years from now,” he stresses.
The industry, he says, is one of the few that operates as a cluster. The APICCAPS not only covers the footwear industry, but also leather goods, components, equipment and commercial companies.
“It is this collective effort that gives us strength. The integration of qualified human resources is all important for the cluster. We also have to be able to attract a new generation of talent for our companies,” he adds.
International market presence
In addition, the sector also needs to substantially reinforce its presence in international markets, he says. The quality of its products needs to be higher, so it can reach the most demanding international markets, showcasing the best.
“We can’t settle as second best. We need to have products that are as good as the best and we need to know how to intensively promote them. Investment in international promotion is still one of our main challenges. We need to take the international lead through an unprecedented growth in investment in marketing and overseas promotion, both at an institutional and companies’ level,” Onofre explains.
The third aspect is innovation. “Everything suggests that sustainability, towards which we as an association have already been mobilising the cluster, will be one of main concerns, even more so than before,” says Onofre.
Therefore, it is preparing to be global leaders in the development of sustainable solutions, a well as working on digitalisation in order to meet the ongoing changes in footwear retail and distribution.
Onofre says that one of the biggest current limitations is the difficulty of travelling and having personal contact with clients. International fairs too are subject to constraints and restrictions.
“This concerns me of course, both as a businessman and head of this association, but It’s a contingency that we have to face at the moment. For the footwear sector, being at international fairs has always been very important,” he says.
“It allows us contact with clients, test new products, understand the markets’ dynamic and even deepen knowledge related to consumer trends and be aware of our competitors. We’ll need to quickly return to that situation. In this regard, and given the current situation we’ve under, additional support for internationalisation is of great importance and we have been raising the Government’s awareness for this need,” he explains.
The association and its members are trying to find new ways of promoting their products and contacting clients through other channels.
“We still lack Portuguese brands that are known all over the world. We’re also focusing on our online participation and the APICCAPS is working hard in this respect,” he adds.
Good news from Brussels
The association has welcomed Europe’s decision to change some of its red lines as a result of the crisis. It says that throughout the past decades, clothing and footwear have been looked at as less important sectors by Brussels, but things are changing.
The APICCAPS has always argued for a fair, balanced and free trade. However, at the moment it says that Europe allows footwear imports from 20 of the main world producers under special conditions, because they’re considered to come from countries that are less developed.
“It makes no sense to enable competitors to come into our market, which, in many cases, don’t even fulfil standards and requirements governing sustainability and labour regulations in their own countries. That’s why the APICCAPS and the European Footwear Confederation have been working together on changing the European Union’s General Scheme of Preferences, which has not been easy,” he admits.
Looking to the future
As President of the European Footwear Confederation, Onofre points out that facing unfair competition is the European industry’s most important battle since the fashion sector is one of the few European sectors that is still a worldwide leader.
Looking to the future, Onofre points to estimates that suggest that 2020 will register a fall of approximately 22.5% in global footwear consumption. In Europe, the fall will be even greater, at approximately 27.5%. That means that over 5Bn pairs of shoes will no longer be sold worldwide.
“The coming years are not going to be easy. Additional efforts will be demanded from all of us and companies will have to find innovative solutions.
“But this is not a time to give up. Now, more than ever, it’s time to look ahead with our heads held high, trusting in our abilities and prepared to break new ground. We are a sector made up of resilient people, who have always faced challenges and struggles. This is just another one and we’ll bounce back to the top, as we have always done,” concludes the President of the Portuguese Footwear Association, Luís Onofre.