The footwear sector is a diverse industry which covers a wide variety of materials (textile, plastics, rubber, and leather) and products ranging from different types of men's, women's, and children's footwear to more specialised products like snowboard boots and protective footwear.
This range of end products reflects the many industrial processes, enterprises, and market structures within the sector.
In 2012, the footwear sector included around 21 000 enterprises, generated EUR 24 billion in turnover, and produced EUR 6.2 billion in added value (around 0.5% of total EU manufacturing). The industry directly employs 280,000 people.
Two thirds of total EU footwear production is concentrated in three countries: Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Italy alone is responsible for around 50% of production. The European footwear industry consists of a large number of small enterprises, employing on average 10-15 employees, and with an average turnover of just over EUR 1 million. Most of these businesses are located in regions with low industrial diversity.
However, the number of companies and employment in the footwear sector has been declining in the past decades due to manufacturing moving to economies with lower labour costs.
Many European companies have moved to high-quality and high-added value segments and niche markets. These include high-end footwear, children’s shoes, footwear for specific applications (protective, golf, skiing boots), and bespoke footwear.
European footwear products are highly sought after, both within the EU and global markets, due to their quality, design, and style.
Although the EU still faces a trade deficit in footwear, exports continue to grow. Between 2010 and 2013, exports grew by 48%. Russia, the US, and Switzerland remain the main export markets but exports to countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey have seen the biggest growth.
The main suppliers of footwear to the EU are China (almost 50% of all imports), and Vietnam (14% of the total value of imports).
The CIRCABC database (the Commission’s Communication and Information Resource Centre for Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) has detailed production and trade data on the footwear industry in the EU.