The idea of replacing leather shoes in foot protection or fashion was unthinkable. However, with the evolution of time, footwear made of various materials including synthetic, rubber, plastic, and cloth has become popular. As they are cheaper, more durable and more fashionable compared to leather, the market for such footwear is growing worldwide. Bangladesh are also witnessing massive growth in the export of synthetic and athletic or non-leather footwear items and it may hit $2 billion by 2030.
The export of leather footwear from Bangladesh is still high due to large reserves of high-quality leather. However, the export of non-leather footwear is increasing every year. Five years ago, in the fiscal year 2017-18, the export of such shoes was equivalent to 244 million US dollars and in the last fiscal year, it increased to 449 million US dollars which is 30 percent more than the previous year. During the July-November period of the current fiscal year, non-leather footwear shipments earned $209.50 million in export earnings, which is about 19.44 percent higher than last year.
According to the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) market assessment, Bangladesh’s synthetic and athletic footwear sector has seen the highest growth in exports and domestic sales among other sectors.
BIDA said that the shipments increased due to increased work orders from renowned international buyers and brands such as H&M, Puma, Decathlon, Fila and Kappa. Products include sandals, flip-flops, boots, jute-based espadrilles, canvas or rubber shoes, sneakers, and molded polyurethane and PVC shoes. The main export destinations are Spain, France, the Netherlands, South Korea, India, Italy and Germany.
Consumers around the world are switching to products like jute, plastics, textiles and polyurethane leather due to increasing global preference for environment and animal-friendly products.
Entrepreneurs say that the annual footwear market in the world is worth $38.1 billion. In 2027 it will exceed $50 billion. Among them, the amount of non-leather shoes is higher. After Corona, many foreign buyers have gone around with purchase orders for shoes. However, as there are not enough factories to take those purchase orders, the opportunity is being missed. With new domestic and foreign investment and government policy support, it is possible to increase the export of non-leather shoes to $2.5 billion by 2030.
According to World Footwear and Statista data, footwear production in 2021 is 8.6 percent higher than in 2020 in different countries of the world. In total, 2.2 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide last year. Among them, 1.29 billion pairs of shoes were exported. And about 68 percent of exported shoes are non-leather.
China is on top of all in terms of selling or exporting footwear within the country. The Chinese bought 4320 million pairs last year. Indians bought 2560 million pairs and Americans bought 2830 million pairs. Bangladesh is tenth on this list. Bangladeshis bought 335 million pairs of shoes last year.
On the other hand, China has always been the top exporter of shoes. 60 percent of exports are in their hands. China exported 7880 million pairs of shoes last year. Vietnam, in second place, exported 1230 million pairs of shoes. The next top three shoe-exporting countries are Indonesia, Turkey and Germany.
Bangladesh has a strong ecosystem for manufacturing synthetic textiles and enjoys the availability of skilled and economical human capital. Also, the government has designated it as a top priority sector in its export policy.
Regarding the sector’s investment potential, suppliers of non-leather goods have duty-free access to 52 countries, including the European Union, under a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) framework.
BIDA Executive Chairman Lokman Hossain Mia said to media, “Investors from Taiwan and China have already shown interest in investing in the non-leather footwear sector through joint ventures with local investors.”
He also said, “We have discussed with local investors about the potentials of the sector. There is the potential to increase exports to $1 billion by 2025 and $2 billion by 2030.”
National Polymer Group’s Shoeniverse Footwear has set up an eco-friendly factory at Bhaluka in Mymensingh to export non-leather shoes. Their daily production is 8,500 pairs of shoes and their export value in the last financial year 2021-22 was $28.5 million.
Riyad Mahmood, Managing Director, Shoeniverse Footwear, said that customers have understood the capabilities and quality of the product which has motivated them to order. Many brands and buyers are reducing their dependence on China. Labor wages are rising in Vietnam. Cambodia is not meeting the demand for workers. All in all, we have a big opportunity ahead of us.
With an investment of $25 million, Maf Shoes manufactures various types of shoes including slippers, Keds and sneakers. Around 9500 workers work in the factories. Maf Shoes exported $70.6 million worth of shoes in the last financial year.
Maf Shoes has taken up an initiative to invest Tk 1,118 crore to establish an export-oriented footwear manufacturing unit alongside other backward linkage industries at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar in Chattogram.
Hasnat Mohammad Abu Obaida, managing director of Maf Shoes, said that non-leather shoes have great potential. Various brands and consumer organizations have started to reduce their dependence on China. As a result, to take a large share in the business of non-leather shoes, new investments are needed both domestically and abroad. For that entrepreneurs should be taken into confidence. Government can easily do this with policy support.