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Planning to import shoes and footwear from China? In this guide, we explain what every importer must know about sourcing the right manufacturer, design and material options, testing and materials and much more.
This is covered
- Footwear Manufacturers in China
- Footwear Manufacturers in China
- Product Specifications
- Packaging Options
- Design Customization
- MOQ Requirements
- EU Footwear Regulations
- US Footwear Regulations
- Trade Shows
Footwear Manufacturers in China
Most Chinese shoe and footwear manufacturers are located in the eastern provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu. However, many shoe and footwear suppliers in China are not primarily focusing on exporting to developed markets, including the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
In fact, most manufacturers and trading companies are primarily selling on the domestic Chinese market, while others target emerging markets – such as India, Nigeria, and Brazil. When selecting a supplier, its main markets are incredibly important.
Quality requirements are generally higher in developed markets, compared to developing markets. Suppliers without previous exports to the US and EU are less likely to offer high-quality footwear. That said, there are also various quality spectra within these markets to take into consideration.
How to select the right footwear supplier
Here are the factors we take into consideration when sourcing footwear suppliers in China:
- Lab test reports (e.g. REACH and ASTM)
- BSCI audit reports
- Sedex audit reports
- ISO 9001 certificates
- ISO 14001 certificates
Chinese suppliers are accustomed to manufacturing products according to buyer specifications. Thus, it’s critical to understand technical specifications that define the quality of shoes and footwear. Many buyers assume this is only relevant when buying customized footwear. That is a major misconception.
Most Chinese manufacturers, and not only those manufacturing shoes, lack internal quality guidelines – largely as a result of decades operating as OEM suppliers.
Thus, a confirmation of product specifications is critical, even when buying factory designed shoes and footwear. Below follows a list of the product specifications you need to keep track of:
- Upper material (e.g. Suede)
- Pantone colors (all components)
- Lining material (e.g. Cotton fabric)
- Insole material (e.g. PU plastic)
- Outsole material (e.g. TPR plastic)
- Insole thickness (e.g. 5 mm)
- Size (e.g. EU 40 – 44)
While purchasing factory designed items is not requiring you to provide product specifications to the supplier, you still need to obtain a complete specification from your supplier and clarify to the supplier that you will verify that the final product is manufactured according to these.
Otherwise, you may receive a product made of materials and components not matching the product specification.
But there’s more to take into consideration when importing footwear. Today, the packaging is almost as important as the product itself. Below follows a list of shoebox specifications to keep track of:
- Print type (e.g. Embossing)
- Layout (Design files)
- Carton (e.g. Corrugated board, 3 layers)
- Surface (e.g. Glossy lamination, Matt lamination, UV coating, hot stamping)
- Surface paper (White, 300 gsm)
- Inner paper (Black, 230 gsm)
- Inner bag (e.g. Polybag)
You can either opt for a custom-designed shoe or base your design on a private label design.
Option A: Private Label (ODM)
Most footwear factories can offer a range of standard models. While factory designed products may not be the most cutting edge there is on the market, you can adjust the following:
The benefit is that you don’t have to create your shoe design from scratch. Instead, you can base your design on a standard product and make certain adjustments.
In a way, a private label product serves as a template, and this is the approach I recommend if you lack design expertise.
Option B: Custom Design
You can also get your custom designed footwear manufactured. However, this requires that you can provide the following files:
- Design files
- Bill of Materials
- Pantone color codes
- Logo files
Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) Requirements
Most Chinese shoes and footwear manufacturers have a Minimum Order Quantity requirement, ranging between 1,000 pairs to 2,000 pairs. In most cases, this is the MOQ per model, but with the option to buy various sizes (e.g. 400 to 500 pairs per size).
Footwear MOQ breakdown
- MOQ per model: 1000 – 2000 pairs
- MOQ per color: 500 – 1000 pairs
- MOQ per size: 250 – 500 pairs
As a result, many small businesses and startups turn to traders, which offer smaller volumes. Sometimes small volume traders offer a MOQ requirement as low as 50 pairs per model.
However, most traders offering low volumes are selling items made for the domestic Chinese market. Keep in mind that such products are not labeled according to EU and US regulations.
Buying small volumes also excludes the option to customize the design, colors, materials, and components, as no supplier is willing to remake already finished goods.
The Minimum Order Quantity for customized packaging is often as high as 5,000 to 10,000 units. As a result, you may face a situation where the packaging MOQ exceeds the product MOQ several times – if you intend to custom design your own product packaging.
This is, however, not an issue when buying non-customized product packaging, as the supplier can reuse standard shoe cartons from one batch over several orders. Still, most suppliers are willing to store unused shoe cartons for future orders, in case you decide to go for a custom-designed packaging.
Shoes and footwear take up a lot of space. Thus, Air freight is not viable as charges are not only based on the cargo weight, but also volume. Shipping by sea is the only viable option when importing shoes and footwear from China. But that is not saying you must order a full container load.
If you are importing only a few thousand units, you may consider using LCL (Less than Container Load) shipping.
European Union Footwear Regulations
General Product Safety Directive (GPSD)
In the European Union, footwear is regulated by the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD). According to a report from Bureau Veritas, the footwear industry has responded to the GSPD, by improving its quality in various aspects, including:
- Sole and Top Piece Slip Resistance
- Sharp Points and Edges
- Seam strength
- The attachment strength of the top piece
- The heel attachment strength of knock-on heels
- Sole Adhesion
However, far from all Chinese manufacturers are able, or willing, to comply with European Union regulations – especially suppliers without previous exports to the EU. On top of the GSPD, the importer is also responsible to ensure that the shoes are labeled according to The European Labelling Directive for Footwear. Materials covering at least 80% of the surface, or 80% of the sole, shall be labelled accordingly.
European importers of footwear shall also note that REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) compliance is mandatory when importing footwear, as with all consumer products. Click here to read more about REACH compliance.
United States Footwear Regulations
There are many ASTM standards applicable to footwear. While there is no single standard that applies to all types of footwear, businesses import either Children’s footwear or Protective footwear shall be aware of the following Federal acts and standards:
- ASTM F-2412-2005 Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection (Protective Footwear)
- ASTM F-2413-2005 Standard Specification for Performance Requirements (Protective Footwear)
- ANSI Z41-1999 American National Standard for Personal Protection (Protective Footwear)
- ANSI Z41-1991 American National Standard for Personal Protection (Protective Footwear)
The CPSIA is applicable to all children’s products, including shoes and footwear for children. The CPSIA requirements can be broken down into the following parts:
- ASTM F963* lab testing
- Tracking Label
- Children’s Product Certificate
*Additional ASTM standards also apply
In addition to these acts and standards, there are also various labeling requirements, that apply depending on the materials. Country or origin labeling (e.g. Made in China) is also mandatory.
- Textile labeling
- Leather labeling
- Country of Origin
Footwear Trade fairs in Mainland China and Hong Kong
Canton Fair Phase 3
China’s biggest fair – the Canton Fair is held yearly in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. Manufacturers and buyers of footwear will spend time at the Canton Fair, starting in October.
Here’s a product overview:
- Men’s Shoes
- Women’s Shoe
- Sports Shoes
- Running Shoes
- Hiking Shoes
- Gym Shoes
- Training Shoes
- Kids’ Shoes
- Boots (Special Use)
- Materials, parts and Semi-finished Products
China Sourcing Fair: Fashion Accessories
This fair is one of many held by Global Sources, in Hong Kong. While this fair is not as big as the Canton Fair, Global Sources are well known for their high-end manufacturers and trading companies attending their exhibitions. Unlike Mainland China, most nationalities don’t need visas to visit Hong Kong.
China International Footwear Fair (CIFF)
Held yearly in Shanghai, the China International Footwear Fair is an important footwear exhibition for both importers buying Chinese made footwear, and overseas manufacturers seeking to access the domestic Chinese market.
Do you want to launch your own footwear collection?
It can be hard to go from a design drawing to finished product. To help you manage the entire process – from creating a specification to sampling and quality control – we created a Starter Package for shoes and footwear:
a. Footwear Manufacturer Lists
b. Product Specification Templates
c. Footwear Label Samples
d. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing, and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.