Buyers Stay Cautious at Hong Kong Show

HONG KONG — Shoe buyers at this year’s APLF fair were playing it safe as they combed through the assortment of footwear options.

About 30,000 visitors attended one of the world’s largest international leather fairs, which ran from March 31 to April 2, at the city’s Convention & Exhibition Centre, with 13 percent of the 682 finished leather products exhibitors showcasing footwear.

Taisa Papak, a shoe designer at X Nation, one of Croatia’s largest shoe stores, said she was making more cautious decisions this year, sticking to winners such as ballerina flats and simple summer sandals in basic black and brown. “The economic crisis has definitely made me more conscious about what I am buying. I am after durable all-day shoes,” she said.

Nine Brazilian shoe brands turned out to comprise one of the country-specific footwear pavilions. The South American shoemakers, tired of dwindling orders from the U.S. and Europe, said they were eager to expand beyond their traditional reach.

“With Europe and the U.S. in economic trouble, we want to open up our distributorship to countries in Asia,” said Paulo Junior, sales manager at Biondini, one of Brazil’s mid- to high-end fashion footwear manufacturers. The company, which produces around 800 pairs of shoes each day, already exports its footwear to Taiwan and Singapore, and is aiming to increase its export quota to about 25 percent over the next few years from the current 10 percent to 12 percent.

Junior was not worried about the significant geographical distance between South America and Asia, and said it would not put off Asian buyers. “Our clients are focused on sourcing high-quality shoes with good finishing and designs. If they are willing to pay for our high-end products, the cost of freight is not a big problem,” he explained.

The impact of the global recession has taken its toll recently on Brazilian shoe manufacturers. Fabio Spohr, export manager for shoemaker Q-Sonho, said orders fell significantly in January and February either because buyers were unable to secure credit to make new purchases or because they were holding off to see if the economy would show signs of stabilizing.

“American and European customers have been splitting orders or just placing small orders to keep the business relationship,” Spohr said. “As a result, we have had to be more flexible with our order minimums, reducing them from 500 to 300 pairs of shoes for each order.” Spohr added that buyers also are slashing costs by ordering more rubber- and synthetic-sole shoes.

Vai Via, a shoe manufacturer in China’s southern Guangdong province, has observed similar cost-cutting strategies with its European buyers. “They are looking much more at synthetic leather shoes because it is half the cost of leather,” noted Wendy Zhou, a sales executive at the company.

To provide customers with competitively priced products, Indonesian shoe designer Elaine Khoo is, for the first time, contemplating the use of recycled leather for some of her sandal designs. “Recycled leather gives customers the same leather look, but at a cost saving of about 15 percent, making this a healthy and affordable alternative,” she said.

Show organizers said this year’s event, which marked the 25th anniversary of APLF, was particularly pertinent given the economic climate. “It shows the continued need for face-to-face contact with potential customers and new suppliers,” said Michael Duck, director of APLF.

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