Synthetic or non-leather footwear are those made of synthetic materials (also known as synthetic, faux, imitation, vegan or PU leather) that hold the appearance of leather but are not made from animal skin or hide like genuine leather even as synthetic material consists of natural and/or synthetic fibres, coated with a plastic polymer while synthetic material is usually made from polyurethane (PU), polyvinylchloride (PVC) or textile-polymer composite microfibres.
As per some estimates, the global market size for synthetic footwear is about US $ 150 billion and there is still huge potential for the growth in the sector even as another report suggests the global synthetic leather market size is anticipated to reach US $ 57.0 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 7.8 per cent from 2021 to 2028, all thanks to product application scope in footwear, which is attributed as a major factor driving its market growth.
Even as some may think the growth of the synthetic footwear is primarily because it is more sustainable than leather, as whether in apparels or footwear on other products, there is increased focus amongst end-users as far as sustainability is concerned. However, according to experts, synthetic footwear do not actually score over leather footwear in terms of sustainability as both leather and synthetic material undergo chemical processing in order to manufacture the material, which means both materials do not biodegrade easily, even as leather being produced from an organic material, has a greater capacity to biodegrade at the end of product life.
Further, the manufacturing of both the materials use chemically intensive processes, and, in many cases, the finishing chemistries are nearly identical; therefore, it cannot be assumed that synthetic materials have not used potentially damaging chemical processes.
However, price quotient apart, synthetic footwear is said to be very popular amongst the young consumers, thanks to it being vegan in nature, to a great extent.
A rising powerhouse in manufacturing and exports of shoes, Bangladesh is not only registering appreciable performance in manufacturing and export of synthetic shoes, if industry insiders are to be believed, given proper and timely policy support from the Government, synthetic footwear could very well turn into the second largest export earning sector for the country.
According to latest reports which cited data from the country’s Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), export of synthetic footwear and sports shoe registered an average annual growth rate of about 20 per cent in the past five years even as during the July-October period of the current financial year, non-leather footwear shipments bagged US $ 133.49 million in export earnings, up by around 4 per cent compared to what was US $ 127.92 million during the same period of FY 2020-21 even if the industry’s annual export earnings had reportedly reached US $ 344.46 million last year, an increase of around 41 per cent, compared to US $ 244.09 million in FY 2017-18.
Industry players attributed this growth to increased demand from the global biggies, including names like Kappa, Skechers, Decathlon, Steve Madden, Puma, Fila, Graceland, Jenny Fairy, Denali Shoes, Ben Sherman, Hugo Boss and H&M even as they added that like the apparel sector, quality and price-competitiveness are at the forefront in helping to drive Bangladesh’s non-leather/synthetic footwear export.
“…since the potential of the non-leather footwear sector is high, we consider it as a good alternative to garments as the country’s leading export earner,” underlined the Managing Director of Shoeniverse Footwear Ltd., Riad Mahmud, while highlighting even though synthetic footwear is now a major industry, very few large-scale companies have shown interest in it, and went on to add, “…considering the industry’s potential for growth, more professional and structured companies could do very well in this business.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Managing Director of Apex Footwear Syed Nasim Manzur, on his part observed non-leather footwear now has greater export potential than leather shoes while underlining synthetic footwear makers performed well even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic while adding the shift in demand from traditional leather shoes to non-leather or synthetic footwear is mostly due to the growing appetite from younger generation.
It may be mentioned here Shoeniverse Footwear’s export earnings grew by 29.19 per cent, 49.28 per cent and 40.52 per cent respectively in the last three financial years even as Apex Footwear reportedly exported more than five lakh pairs of non-leather shoes last year, and the company expects to continue the good show going forward.
Thanks to the growing popularity of the synthetic footwear, another major player, Maf Shoes, which is a sister concern of TK Group and accounted for more than 20 per cent of Bangladesh’s US $ 344 million sports shoe exports in the last financial year, is said to have
invested around Taka 1,118 crore to establish an export-oriented footwear manufacturing unit alongside other backward linkage industries at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar (BSMSN), in Chittagong.
“…we have decided to invest in export-oriented factories for synthetic sports shoes, sports-gears and other associated backward linkage facilities at BSMSN,” underlined Executive Director of Maf Shoes Mohammad Shahadat Ullah then while adding Maf Shoes will set up a total of 10 manufacturing units related to footwear and its backward linkage industries.
It may be mentioned here Maf Shoes is a pioneer in synthetic or non-leather sports footwear products in Bangladesh, and is a 100 per cent export-oriented company with the highest solo investment, even as the company reportedly produces a wide range of footwear for all age groups and provides complete manufacturing solutions under one umbrella, and is one of the most reliable and dedicated sourcing partners of Decathlon.
So, even as the demand for synthetic footwear continues to rise still, considering the vast potential of the industry, Bangladesh Government has given priority to sports and synthetic footwear under its latest export policy even if currently, the Government is said to be providing a 15-per cent cash incentive on the exports from the highly labour-intensive industry while chances are there that another 4 per cent incentive could be made available soon, as per the industry insiders.
Given the prospects as well as proactive approach of the industry players to make the most of the opportunities in the global market for synthetic footwear, coupled with the financial assistance provided by the Government, as has been the expectation of the industry, it is a matter of time before Bangladesh registers another growth story, this time in synthetic footwear, to help boost export earnings further, along with the readymade garment industry!