China's footwear exports rose 31.4% year-on-year to 173.7 billion yuan ($25.76 billion) in the first half of 2022. @ChinaDaily says that this has been possible thanks to the rebound in post-Covid 19 demand and the speed with which Chinese shoe factories have moved from face-to-face commercial operations and production with analog technologies, to the adoption of online sales, 3D, digital technologies along the entire value chain and outsourcing. [Shoemakers, clients work out details via video link, 3D printing – CD]
For decades, shoemaking companies in China have followed time-tested methods of making a living in global markets: meeting clients at their factories to arrange order details, showcasing their products at the China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, and increasing spending on cross-border e-commerce platforms to promote sales.
But after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many foreign clients were unable to travel overseas, so Zhu Henglin, who heads business operations at Juyi Group Co Ltd, a shoe manufacturer in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, and his colleagues have adopted 3D printing equipment to work out details with their international clients.
The Chinese company and its foreign clients each make samples of shoe designs with 3D printers and then discuss and modify the details via online video, which greatly saves time and costs for both.
"Thanks to this, we no longer need to send shoe samples to clients in developed markets and worry about shipment delays," said Zhu, who added that many shoemaking companies in Wenzhou have production orders lined up until the end of the year.
Driven by surging demand in overseas markets, especially in the rebounding tourism and sports sectors, China's footwear product exports soared 31.4 percent year-on-year to 173.7 billion yuan ($25.76 billion) in the first half of 2022, according to the General Administration of Customs.
Because footwear products are one of the categories of tariff concessions under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, the pact, which took effect in January, has further boosted China's exports of shoes and boots, said Wang Daning, an official at the Yiwu branch of Hangzhou Customs.
Gold Emperor Group, another Wenzhou footwear manufacturer, recently installed two sets of new equipment to apply glue to the upper part and sole of shoes in one of its factories in Wenzhou. With the new equipment in place, the output capacity of each production line has been set at 250 pairs per hour, doubling the output of 32 employees.
Footwear is traditionally a labor-intensive industry and it remains difficult to completely standardize automation. However, in some phases of the work, replacing workers with machinery reduces production capacity, said Zhu Jianfeng, the company's president.
"The reason we dared to invest such a large amount of capital in fixed assets at one time is mainly because of the substantial increase in export orders, which has boosted our confidence. In addition, the international markets' orders for athletic shoes have remained strong in recent months," he said. Zhu added that the company is expected to export 12 million pairs of sports shoes this year.
Chen Wenzhao, director of business development at Gold Emperor Group, said that challenges and opportunities coexist for China's shoemaking industry this year. Aside from footwear products, items including metal clasps, shoe soles and upper parts, and shoelaces sold well in Southeast Asian countries. He said all the parts and accessories needed in the shoemaking process can be found and bought in Wenzhou. Even though the resumption of work and production in Southeast Asia has brought challenges to labor-intensive industries like shoe, textile and garment businesses since the beginning of 2022, it has also brought these export opportunities, thanks to China's industrial chain advantage, he said.
Supported by more than 11,000 employees in manufacturing bases in Jiangxi, Henan and Hubei provinces, as well as in Myanmar, the value of the company's exports of semifinished products and other materials to Myanmar surged from 8.45 million yuan in 2021 to 95 million yuan in the first half of the year.
In Fujian province, another shoemaking base in China, Wu Jiang, an official at the Haicang branch of Xiamen Customs, said companies in Xiamen and surrounding cities exported 2.6 billion yuan worth of shoemaking materials to Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia between January and June, up 40 percent year-on-year.
Assembly operations with relatively low technical content are the fastest link in industrial chain transfers. Although the trade value of end products is high, their added value is low, said Tu Xinquan, dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics.
"Chinese manufacturers in many sectors have already entered the upstream link of the processing trade. While some processing trade is shifting from China to certain member economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China's exports of intermediate products are soaring at a notable pace," he said, adding that this is in line with the trend of industrial upgrading and transformation.