It’s certainly a special spring that we all have been through. The impact that the coronavirus has had on the whole society is huge, and for an industry like the manufacturing of quality shoes, it’s meant a whole new reality. Here’s an overview of what has happened to this industry this far, and some thoughts on what might come next.
First of all, of course the worst thing with the coronavirus will always be the ones who have passed away due to the disease, and for the families and friends of those. But since this blog is about quality shoes, it’s the impact of COVID-19 on this industry that I will write about here. This far, sadly, it’s been quite fierce. And it will likely be so for some time.
Now, of course things vary from location, but in general, the shopping in physical stores have been hit to an extreme in large parts of the world. Not only in places where it’s been proper lockdowns and everything have been forced to close, also in countries/regions where stores have remained open and life in general have been relatively “normal”, the amount of shopping done in physical stores (apart from for example grocery stores and pharmacies) have been down dramatically. And shoes are mainly sold in physical stores, even if e-commerce is growing it’s still only a fraction of the total number of shoes sold that find their customers through online shopping. It’s also a fact that clothing and shoes are an area of commerce that have seen an extra large decline, since people don’t buy new clothes and shoes when they are not going to work and stay at home entirely or at least a lot. To summarise, the demand for quality shoes have been down to very low levels the past few months, in general.
For the factories, also here it varies a bit on where they are located, but in Europe almost all shoe factories have been forced to close for at least a period of time this spring. The hit this takes on the factories varies depending on the support given by local governments. In some countries the factories have to pay the workers their salary even if the factory is closed, which is bad for the economy of the factory but good for the workers. In some countries factories haven’t had to pay workers when they are at home, which is less bad for the economy of the factory but really bad for the employees. How much financial support that’s been given from governments, and in what ways, is very mixed. There’s only one thing we can say for certain, basically all shoe factories have suffered the past months.
When the factories have been able to open up again, which in for example China has been for some time now, in Spain they were also quite quick and if factories followed a number of regulations they have been able to be open for a number of weeks, Italy came recently and England has opened up factories again just the past couple of weeks. But, it’s certainly not like they are going back to normal. First of all, in most cases, the production that have been handled after re-opening has been of orders from before COVID-19 hit, very few new orders are coming in to the factories. This means that once the old orders are done, factories have not much work anymore.
There’s so many examples I have, but to give a few, we have one of the largest Spanish factories in Almansa who are down from making 2,500 pairs a week to 500 pairs/week, another famous Spanish firm only have the factory running two days a week now, another one has been open on limited run but will be closing again from next week since they don’t have pairs to make, in Northampton one of the main producers of Goodyear welted shoes was at least temporarily saved from doing redundancies only thanks to governmental furloughs and incurred a three month shutdown, and so on, and so on. For bespoke shoemakers, it’s obviously not easier, with travel restrictions making it impossible to meet new and existing customers. As an example, when I talked with one of the most famous Japanese bespoke shoemakers towards the end of April, he said he hadn’t have one single new order during that month.
So, it’s definitely challenging times, and even if things are beginning to open up and go back to something more close to normal in many places, there’s still the fear of second waves, and a lot of uncertainties in general. When people will buy shoes like they did before the crisis, no one knows. Since the market for quality dress shoes had passed its peak in many places of the world, and lots of new brands have been entering the scene the past few years, the already tough competition have become even more fierce. This will likely result in a number of actors not surviving this global crisis, sadly.
However, something we did see after the financial crisis in 2008, is that the demand for classic shoes shoes took a hike, when people was looking for long lasting quality products to a higher degree. In times of uncertainty, it’s common that one look to something proven, something with a heritage, something sustainable. If the quality shoe industry can make sure to take advantage if this once again will be the case, it can, once again, come out stronger on the other side. Let’s hope for that progression, and we who can help in making it happen, i.e. by buying shoes, let’s contribute with that.