Portugals shoe exports reached EUR1.8bn (US$2.06bn) last year

Portugal's shoe exports reached EUR1.8bn (US$2.06bn) last year

After a difficult few years brought about by a global economic recession, Portugal’s footwear and clothing industries are growing and underpinning the country’s business recovery.

Last year [2014] the country’s shoe exports hit a record high of around 89m pairs, bringing in EUR1.8bn (US$2.06bn) in receipts according to the Portuguese Association of Industrial Footwear, Accessories, Leather Goods and Substitutes (APICCAPS).

According to a spokesperson from APICCAPS, overseas sales growth of 7.7% was registered in 2014, making it the fifth consecutive year of growth.

Figures from APPICAPS show growth was registered in "practically all" overseas markets, particularly in Europe, but also in (former Portugal colony and oil rich) Angola, US, Canada and Australia.

"Since 2009, Portuguese footwear sales in foreign markets have increased by more than 50%. Portugal is consolidating its presence in European markets and has doubled its presence in overseas markets," the association said.

To generate these returns, bold marketing initiatives have been taken. In 2013, the country launched what is described by the association as a "worldwide charm offensive," using prominent Portuguese models to showcase shoes by leading national designers in an alluring campaign under the motto "The sexiest industry in Europe."

The efforts have had the desired effect, as Portuguese footwear has since made headlines after being worn by celebrities such as Pippa Middleton.

Portuguese manufacturers were also used to produce designs by the singer Rihanna for the British street fashion brand River Island. The footwear was made in Portugal on behalf of British footwear maker Shoeboos, which has a plant in the parish of Arrifana, in the municipality of Santa Maria da Feira in northern Portugal.

Pillar of the economy
The country’s textile, clothing, accessory and footwear industry has historically been – and continues to be – one of the most important industries to the Portuguese economy. In 2013, there were around 13,300 companies working in all sub-sectors.

According to Joao Costa, the president of the Portuguese Textile Association, the industry provides work for almost 150,000 men and women, and is responsible for just under 10% of industrial output and over 10% of the country’s total exports – which the government currently sees as the single most important feature of Portugal’s economic recovery, even above tourism.

The majority of these producers are small and medium-sized enterprises, capitalising on their flexibility and quick response, expertise and innovation, according to latest data from the governmental business development agency AICEP (Agência para o Investimento e Comércio Externo de Portugal).

And while not as high profile as, say, the Italian clothing and textile industry, Portugal has been building a reputation in the international fashion sector.

Brands such as Zara, Max Mara, Calvin Klein, Versace, Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss have all recently placed orders with Riopele, one of the oldest and most respected textile manufacturers in Portugal, which the company says is thanks to its innovative techniques, and high-quality synthetic fibres.

Also regular appearances at international trade fairs, such as Première Vision Paris, have promoted Riopele’s products and ideas in new markets. The event, which traditionally takes place every September, is one of the most important European fairs of its kind.

Speaking in Frankfurt earlier this year, Portuguese economy minister António Pires de Lima said clothing, accessory and footwear exports could earn Portugal more than EUR5bn in 2015.