Chairman European Confederation of the Footwear Industry (CEC)
What are the key areas that CEC is working on for 2020?
We will continue facilitating strategic partnerships within universities, schools, associations, technological centres or scientific and technological institutions under different European projects and initiatives, and focus on education, innovation and sustainability, while reinvigorating the image of our industry towards younger generations and their families. Leading our industry towards more sustainable practices to maximise resources efficiency and respond to increasing consumers' demands can only be achieved through a large partnership working plan that brings together the necessary know-how and skills.
What sustainable upskilling and reskilling programmes you are focusing on?
Upskilling and reskilling do have an important role to play in supporting the shift to a less carbonised footwear production. The CEC has been involved in several European Commission-funded projects that developed or updated new occupation profiles which took sustainability into consideration, such as the Step2Sustainability project.
The current Erasmus+ Blueprint Skills4Smart TCLF Industries 2030 project, although not directly focused on sustainability, will also develop a sustainability technician profile while under the Erasmus+ SciLed project, we are currently developing highereducation training curricula that will teach students how to implement innovative green processes when making footwear products. It is also important to note that upskilling and reskilling is not the only strategy when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the footwear sector. The CEC also takes part in another sustainability-related initiative that focuses on developing a product environmental footprint for footwear products specifically, which will help in developing efficient ecodesign, recycling and manufacturing solutions.
Both upskilling / reskilling and product environmental footprints are strategies that focus on processes, but materials are of course an integral part of the solution, and in addition to leather, a renewable natural resource, footwear companies are for example developing soles from recycled cork and other organic materials. In order to be truly sustainable, the question of the source of these materials is also important and more and more brands are implementing sourcing procedures that favour local and ethical suppliers.
Are EU footwear retailers incorporating blockchain to thwart counterfeiting?
It is not a secret that the products of European brands are extensively counterfeited. Unfortunately, European brands are the medal winners in that division. Although this problem implies very difficult and costly processes (both in terms of human and economic resources), European footwear companies and brands do everything to exercise their rights and will continue to do so. Blockchain is a big opportunity for fashion companies because it not only protects businesses from the economic loss, but also ensures the safety and security of consumers, who can better understand the origin and the manufacturing process of the product they want to buy. It is therefore becoming popular among European companies and brands given the transparency and safe overall experience that it presents. As its popularity is expanding, it is becoming a possible solution for more and more European companies.
What are the key footwear market trends that you see?
Several long-term trends can be identified. Personalised and differentiated footwear has been in high-demand for quite some time now: consumers want to be involved in the process of shaping the products they consume and shoes are a particularly popular product to personalise as they are seen by many as a means to express one's personality. New advances such as flexible manufacturing or 3D printing allow footwear companies to cater to these demands at lower costs than before and have made personalised and differentiated footwear more available. Comfort also ranks high in consumers' expectations: footwear products must not only be stylish but also comfortable.
Footwear companies are answering the call for more comfortable footwear products by designing shoes that really take into account the relation between the foot and the body as a whole, so as to offer footwear products that participate to an overall sense of well-being. The demand for ethical and sustainable products has also been growing during the past years. European footwear companies have been very innovative in this area and we've seen a number of new manufacturing processes and designs based on sustainable materials emerge.
What is the annual number of footwear units manufactured in Europe? Is near shoring increasing?
In 2018, approximately 6 billion pairs of shoes were produced in the European Union. The number has been steady for the last few years, but it is true that there is a certain trend of the return of the production to Europe, which seems to be progressively increasing.
External factors such as the need to guarantee a traceability system of materials, products and conditions of production are encouraging such return to Europe and / or neighbouring countries.
Another relevant factor is the increasing request for personalised products and for a prompt delivery, which led to EU brands' decision to bring the production closer to the consumer.
The trend will continue as consumers are very focused on differentiation among the multiple choice of products. However, it is still difficult at this stage to estimate the amount of production that has been brought back onshore from non-EU countries.
Have the ongoing global trade wars (USChina) and political developments (like Brexit) impacted business?
As you know, we live in a globalised world, which means that any trade war or political breach of alliances brings uncertainty and damps global economic growth. Directly involved countries are not alone in facing the consequences, and negative impacts also reach other countries over a medium to long-term timeframe. Uncertainty creates a loss of confidence both among consumers, who reduce their consumption, and companies, which suspend their capital and human resources investments.
This interview was first published in the October 2019 edition of the print magazine
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