Trump Is Touting ‘Made in America’ Again — But Do Shoe Brands Really Benefit?

Buy American. That’s the message the White House is generating with its third annual “Made in America Week.”

On Monday, President Donald Trump issued the latest proclamation he said is designed to honor the efforts of American entrepreneurs, workers and farmers in revitalizing the nation’s economy. But how much of a difference does the event really make?

Nate Herman, SVP of supply chain for the American Apparel & Footwear Association, is cautiously optimistic about future growth for the industry, in light of the Trump Administration’s efforts to draw attention to domestic makers.

“There’s been success to point to over the last few years with U.S. footwear production, so maybe [the proclamation] will change some minds or get people to think,” said Herman.

However, he added, there are important conversations that still need to be had around manufacturing and how the government can provide greater support. “We hope the proclamation highlights some of the challenges of domestic manufacturing, such as infrastructure issues and the role the China tariffs play since there are many tariffs on the inputs for domestic manufacturing, [including] machinery used to make shoes in the U.S.,” said Herman.

Since last year, when President Trump first initiated a trade dispute with Beijing, his administration has slapped new tariffs of 25% on $200 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing has responded with duties of 5% to 25% on $60 billion in U.S. goods. Things between the dueling world powers have quieted following President Trump’s meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, late last month. The U.S. leader decided against implementing another proposed 25% levy on $300 billion worth of products, which would have impacted apparel, footwear and other accessories.

Less than 1% of all footwear sold in the U.S. today is made in America, according to the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA). The companies that do continue to manufacture footwear here make a range of products, including work and Western boots, athletic sneakers, sandals, clogs and classic hand-sewn moccasins.

One category that has made the most progress in recent years is military footwear, according to Herman.

In 2016, Representatives Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts and Bruce Poliquin of Maine introduced legislation that requires the U.S. Department of Defense to purchase American-made sneakers, in keeping with a 1941 law called the Berry Amendment.

Herman said, “The military is now buying American-made sneakers, whereas as in the past the military had found a way around buying this category domestically. New recruits are now wearing American-made trainers from brands including New Balance, Saucony and SAS.”

At FDRA, president and CEO Matt Priest, was less optimistic about the effectiveness of Trump’s made-in-USA marketing push. “Ultimately, the [buying] decisions are based on Americans’ demand and their willingness to pay for product,” said Priest, noting that shoes made stateside come with a higher price tag. “For the most part, people can’t afford the labor component that goes into American-made footwear. So that’s why less than 1 percent of footwear sold in the U.S. is made here. I don’t think that number will change significantly anytime soon in spite of the added focus on it from this administration.”

John Andreliunas, president of Quoddy Inc., which makes hand-sewn moccasins in Lewiston, Maine, was similarly skeptical. “I’m not sure how much people take political statements into account for their footwear purchases,” he said, “but we certainly welcome the attention on U.S. manufacturers. In my opinion, the greatness of U.S. brands lies in their ability to innovate, inspire, and serve their customers. Manufacturing in the U.S. is one part of this equation.”

Eric Kinney, president and CEO of White’s Boots in Spokane, Wash., also welcomed any additional support, especially from consumers. “Producing boots for over 150 years, it just gets harder and harder every day to run a factory in America,” he said. “We do take pride in our made-in-America products and the biggest help for us is for consumers to spend a little more and buy products that are truly made [here]. Over the extended life of American-made products, the value is there.”

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