Spanish Firms Forge Ahead Amid Obstacles

MADRID — Hit hard by Spain’s economic woes, the country’s footwear market continues to struggle, though a number of vendors at the recent edition of Modacalzado said they are pushing ahead with fresh initiatives.

Paco Gil and Chie Mihara are among the designers set to expand with product launches and growth into new markets.

Elda, Spain-based women’s manufacturer Paco Gil has inked a joint venture with Chinese Laundry to distribute his eponymous brand throughout Europe, and currently, the two companies are scouting locations in Berlin for a 2010 retail opening, he said.

In the meantime, Chie Mihara, owner and designer of her namesake brand, is expanding into men’s sandals and bridal for spring ’10, and Mihara said she is cautiously optimistic about the future.

After posting 2008 sales of 15 million euros, or $22 million at current exchange, Mihara’s sales for fall ’09 slid 10 percent. “But for spring [’10], we’re booking more than ever,” she said. “Things are going to get better, slowly.”

In the U.S., despite a weak dollar, Mihara continues to post solid sales numbers. “What’s important is to make a shoe so desirable that price fluctuations don’t matter,” she said. Mihara, like Gil, is also scouting retail locations in Berlin.

Brako, a brand from the La Rioja region in northern Spain, introduced an eco-conscious collection of Mary Janes and clogs for spring. The brand is prepping to enter the U.S. and Canadian markets, said GM Carlos Ortigosa.

“When there is a need in the market, the economic crisis takes second place,” Ortigosa said, noting that the company manufactures 1,200 pairs daily and exports 92 percent of its product to Europe.

For their part, retailers said they were aware of the continued challenges facing Spanish manufacturers, but were satisfied with the vendor mix at the show.

Overall, there were 293 exhibitors, a drop of 134 over last year’s fall edition. The pared-down format included a collective grouping of 20 international brands in an open space called Espacio Glam.

“The organizers got rid of a lot of junk vendors. It’s easier to find good product,” said Laura Schumacher, U.S. e-tailer and owner of Espadrillesetc.com, a 10-year-old site selling espadrilles and bags. “I have more confidence dealing with new resources here, knowing they are surviving the crisis.”

Christina Adeyemi, a three-store retailer from Abuja, Nigeria, said she picked up brightly colored party shoes and evening styles with Swarovski-crystal accents from a handful of vendors, including Rebeca Sanver and Ramón Tenza.

According to official figures, Modacalzado and the Iberpiel leather goods fair, which traditionally run in tandem, drew 10,815 trade visitors, down more than 18 percent from September 2008 (but an increase of 17 percent over the March show, according to organizers). Foreign attendance totaled 1,875, with overseas visitors mostly from Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Russia and Mexico.

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