The first half of 2023 closed on a positive note for the Italian footwear industry, recording growth in turnover (+7.4 per cent) and exports (+10.2 per cent in value in the first five months). However, volume suffered: -6.8 per cent for exports and -5.7 per cent for production.

This, in summary, is the picture drawn by the Confindustria Moda Research Centre for Assocalzaturifici just days before MICAM Milano, the international footwear fair taking place at Fiera Milano (Rho) on 17-20 September 2023.

According to Assocalzaturifici Chair, Giovanna Ceolini: “The widely expected slowdown finally materialised in the second quarter of the current year. The strong rebound of 2021 – after the slump caused by the lockdowns – and the continuation of recovery during 2022 – albeit at an understandably slower pace, as business levels returned to normal – were followed by a marked deceleration, after a promising start to 2023 for most economic variables.

All the main export destinations recorded increases in value in the first five months. The only exceptions were Switzerland, probably due to different distribution strategies adopted by luxury brands, which avoid transiting through the Swiss warehouses, the UK and Canada.”

Despite the recent concerns over the slowdown in the national economy, very encouraging signs have come so far from China (+20.4 per cent in volume and +43.4 per cent in value), where the average price – by far the highest among the main outlet markets for Italian footwear – clearly shows that these figures are linked above all to the performance of the large luxury brands, in a market that is not easy to penetrate for companies with their own brand.

Ms Ceolini continued: “The rebound in Russia and Ukraine is worth noting (+37 per cent and +56 per cent in value, respectively), although it should be borne in mind that the comparison period includes months when the outbreak of the war had caused sales to plummet in the two markets involved. The balance of trade, driven by foreign sales, touched three billion euros (+14.2 per cent) in the first five months.”

A closer look at the report reveals that, in the first five months of the year, Italian footwear exports stood at 87.9 million pairs, including purely sales operations: 6.4 million fewer pairs compared to January-May 2022 (-6.8 per cent). The average price per pair increased to 62.47 euros, i.e. +18.2 per cent.

If we look at macro geographical areas, both EU countries – to which two out of three shoes sold abroad are exported – and non-EU destinations show growth in value and a drop in quantity; however, trends are better within the European Union (-4.5 per cent in volume and +14 per cent in value) compared to more distant outlet markets (-10.9 per cent and +7 per cent overall, respectively). Within the EU markets, besides France – which firmly occupies first place in the general export ranking, in terms of both quantity and value – the main destinations include Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland.

On the domestic consumption front, according to the Fashion Consumer Panel of Sita Ricerca for Assocalzaturifici, after a start to the year marked by recovery, household spending on footwear decreased sharply in the following three months, especially in May and June.

Overall, the second quarter of the year saw a decrease of -9.8 per cent in terms of pairs and -7.9 per cent in value, cancelling out the progress of the previous months.

As regards business demographics, the persisting effects of the unprecedented crisis triggered by the pandemic led to a negative balance of -122 footwear manufacturers – including both firms and artisans – in the first six months of the year.

Finally, expectations remain very cautious for the second half of the year, given the general climate of uncertainty and the weakness of many economies worldwide. On average, for the first time since the post-pandemic recovery, operators in the sample expect turnover in the third quarter to be down on the same period last year (-2.8 per cent).