The Portuguese shoe armada

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A 120-company strong armada of Portuguese shoe makers will take once again to the world in the coming 20 days, participating in 8 international trade fairs showing the potential of the country’s high profile shoemaking.

You probably saw them in a shoe store near you but you never really inquired about its provenance. You grew accustomed to buying them for their quality and comfort and you probably thought these classy hand-stitched brogues or loafers were from Italy. That is not surprising, as this country has long established its reputation, leading many to think that crafted, refined and elegant is synonym to Italian, the number one shoe maker in the world. But that is not entirely so, particularly in the shoe sector as this position is increasingly being disputed by the two Iberian countries, particularly Portugal, a country with a well established reputation and where international shoe and designer brands have for long had their shoes made, from Timberland to Lacoste through to Kenzo and many others. For years manufacturers, particularly in this industry’s northern hotspots have been discretely crafting the shoes you seen in catwalks, fashion editorials, worn by actors and singers, stars and starlets, and the lot. But the country and its skilled artisans and shoemakers have never been that good at making their own marketing, over confident on the growing orders from international clients.

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But something is changing in this sector. In recent years shoemakers in Portugal woke up to the potential of developing and marketing their own brands, teaming up with some of most renowned fashion designers in the country and launching capsule collections, thus reaching out to new audiences. Nuno Gama, Miguel Flor and Ricardo Andrez for Eureka; Luis Buchinho and Alexandra Moura for Goldmud, Aleksandr Protic for Dkode and Dino Alves for Dysfunctional Shoes are just some examples of partnerships that have helped bring shoes closer to the fashion world and to the catwalks. Aside from these collaborations other manufacturers have woken up to the need to show their work outside the trade fair sector and particularly to new consumers, including Portuguese consumers, who often do not have access to a mainly export oriented production, with little shops in the country offering a comprehensive range of Portuguese shoes, something that is now changing.

Goldmud

But, true to be said, the international markets are the major source of revenues for this industry employing 6 thousand people with exports generating € 500 million. In a country afflicted by harsh austerity measures dictated by the IMF-ECB-EC bail-out program this industry has been able to increase its production, witnessing a 4% increase in exports in the first semester, an accumulated 29% increase in the past 3 years. GDS in Düsseldorf, Micam in Milan Italy and Momad Metropolis in Madrid are the three trade fairs with biggest Portuguese participation. As for the first it is an important trade fair considering that Portugal has exported 6.2 million pairs of shoes to Germany in the first year-half, worth € 153 million. In the coming edition, GDS Düsseldorf will rely this time on the presence of 13 young shoe designers from Hugo Costa to Common Cut through to Officina Lisboa or Rutz. As for Micam, this trade fair relies on the second biggest presence with 81 Portuguese companies displaying their products in the most disputed trade fair for shoes that takes place twice a year in Milan. As for Momad Metropolis in Madrid, it is a possibility to bring Portuguese shoes closer to the neighboring Spanish market and to reach new markets, given this trade fair’s strategy to invite international delegations from the Far and Middle-East and from Eastern Europe. Northwest Shoe Travelers, SMOTA and Shoe Market of the Americas, both in the USA, Outdoor Trade Show in the UK, Anteprima Trend Selection in Italy, Rooms, in Tokyo, The Brandery in Barcelona and London Fashion Week are further events chosen by Portugal to showcase their shoe collections and production.

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The coming month of September will therefore be a busier month for this industry. And next time you are in one of the large trade halls or buying a pair of shoes around the corner from you, check where it was made. Chances are that the ones you liked the most for their quality and design are Portuguese, despite bearing often a foreign brand name.

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