Mexico Ramps Up Exports

LEÓN, Mexico — The devaluation of the Mexican peso, coupled with the country’s proximity to the U.S., is spurring more interest among footwear firms.

Mexican footwear exports grew by nearly 6 percent in the first two months of 2009, according to Guanajuato State Chamber of Commerce. Around 90 percent of those 459,350 pairs of shoes were destined for the U.S market.

At the recent Sapica trade show, held here April 23-26, some attendees said they were turning to Mexican manufacturers during the down economy. (Latin America’s largest footwear fair was already in full swing before the swine influenza frenzy hit the headlines, limiting its adverse impact on attendance.)

“The currency has helped make Mexico much more competitive,” said Michael Dvorak, VP of footwear for Denver-based Karmen, which manufactures Western brands Stetson and Roper.

Dvorak said Karmen’s tannery partners in León offer suppliers flexibility with order volumes, allowing them “to bring more products to market without having to make a huge commitment.” By comparison, Dvorak said producers in China demand orders of at least 3,000 pairs, a figure that is increasing as Chinese factories fold.

Additional savings on duty and freight and swifter shipments are also attracting U.S. buyers. On average, Mexican goods reach the U.S. within a week, while transit times from China take approximately 30 days.

Frances Fernandez, owner and president of Puerto Rico-based retailer Calzado Astur, described Mexico as “a hidden treasure” for footwear. Like Dvorak, Fernandez said suppliers allow her to place small orders for her chain of children’s shoe shops, making it less risky for her to experiment with a new line.

Moving forward, Mexico is looking to expand its reach beyond its neighboring markets. While the U.S. currently buys the majority of Mexican shoe exports, the European Union, Central and South America, Japan and Canada have been identified as potential markets for the future.

CICEG President Demetrio Armando Martín used Sapica to launch Prospecta, a market research center that will help pinpoint consumer preferences. Other initiatives include Mexican Shoes Quality, an industry-wide program outlining production guidelines and export standards.

Mexico also is betting on young design talent through projects such as Creáre, a nationwide competition in which designers compete for backing from the government and industry companies.

In addition, for the first time in Sapica’s 35-year history, domestic designers, including José Luis Abarca, José María Torre and Jesús Ibarra y Bertholdo, headlined fashion shows during the event.

Industry players hope innovation will help Mexico continue to ramp up its manufacturing position, even amid the recession.

“Normally crises are an opportunity and a catalyst for fashion, as seen in Argentina and Brazil,” said Cristián García Arenas, founder of urban footwear and fashion store Dime. “This could be Mexico’s moment.”

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