It hit the Portuguese shoe industry hard, as it specializes in high-end leather footwear – normally reserved for special occasions and formal work environments – and most of it exported.
“There are no nightclubs, no couples going out… all of this means reductions in certain products,” said Joao Maia, general manager of the Portuguese shoe association APICCAPS.
Some companies have turned to making more comfortable shoes to use at home or in the supermarket. A few have added masks and other safety equipment to their production lines.
But the changes will not make up for all the losses. Between January and August of this year, exports from Portugal – Europe’s third largest shoe producer after Italy and Spain – fell by around 17% compared to the same period in 2019.
Portugal exports more than 90% of its footwear and the sector has grown by around 50% over the past decade, earning 1.7 billion euros last year after a 2017 peak of 1.9 billion euros. ‘euros.
Manufacturers have to adapt to survive.
Paulo Martins, partner of men’s shoe brand Ambitious, said that during the first lockdown, his business began to focus on shoes for staying at home or for gardening.
“People who used to dress and put on more formal shoes are now working from home and… want a more comfortable product,” said Martins at his factory in northern Portugal, where most of the clothing is located. 1,500 shoe companies nationwide.
“Preferences are changing and this will have a big impact on our business.”
Others, like ToWorkFor, have made even more radical changes.
The company, which specializes in safety footwear for construction and other industries, has transformed one of its production lines to manufacture face masks and is developing other products.
“The pandemic has opened our horizons,” said Orlando Andrade, marketing manager at ToWorkFor.
“If anything positive came out of this pandemic, it’s that it made us look at reality in a different way, see the potential where we hadn’t seen it before because we were in our area. of comfort.
Despite innovation and flexibility, producers expect their order books to decline.
“The volume of orders we currently have will not be enough to support the entire production run,” said Martins.
It also faces an increase in sick days for staff due to the pandemic, which could force the company to shut down one of its two shoe production lines.
Luxury shoe designer Luis Onofre, whose designs have been worn by celebrities such as Naomi Watts and Paris Hilton, said many of his customers canceled their orders when the pandemic hit.
“Maybe people got used to being a little more at home,” Onofre told Reuters in his showroom, as workers assembled high-heeled shoes in the factory below where the smell of leather and glue lingered in the air.
He described the pandemic as a “scary time” for the luxury footwear industry.
Footwear brands like Onofre mostly rely on overseas fairs to sell their products to customers, but most have been canceled.
And, with fewer customers than usual, 70 percent of factories chose to shut down production between March and May, according to APICCAPS.
“It will be extremely difficult for the fashion industry, because during the summer traders hardly sold,” said Onofre. “They are overloaded. If this continues and they accumulate more, it could be the end of many businesses. “
Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Written by Catarina Demony; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Mike Collett-White