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Opportunity knocks for UK shoe manufacturing

The UK justifiably has the reputation of producing world-renowned footwear designers whose names are synonymous with stylish, must-have women’s shoes.

Sadly, this design brilliance no longer translates into women’s footwear manufacturing here in the UK.

What typically happens is that a talented designer launches a women’s range and produces the first pairs in his or her workshop, or in one of the few bespoke manufacturers that exist. Sales grow and there is a need to produce in bulk (albeit short runs). Given today’s lack of UK high-grade women’s footwear manufacturing, the designer will look at Italy, Spain or Portugal for supply sources. They then encounter problems of minimum order requirements, investment in lasts and a lack of enthusiasm from factories. The result is they end up spending a huge amount of time and money in the chosen country or decide to move production to the Far East, where there is enthusiasm but obvious logistical problems.

Given these frustrations, is now the time to launch a quality women’s footwear factory in the UK for start-up or semi-established designers? The pound/euro rate is working in our favour and there is a demand for this. Also, the UK has a record of producing world-beating premium men’s shoes. The government is keen to promote manufacturing, and we have an outstanding last maker in Spring Line.

What works against the idea is that the UK lacks the necessary manufacturing skills, and would have to import leather and components from Europe, where the exchange rate would work against us.

Arguably the time is more right than it has been in 25 years, but do the economics stack up and, more importantly, is there the will to take this opportunity?

  • Richard Kottler is chief executive of the British Footwear Association

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