Growth and Innovation in the Portuguese Footwear Industry

More than 1500 Portuguese companies operate in the footwear, components and leather goods sector, employing 40,000 people, according to the latest report from APICCAPS.

In the past decade, footwear sector exports grew by 29%, during that period resisting the strong impact of Covid-19 pandemic. Its performance in foreign markets in the last quarter of 2021 was the best recorded to date. 

Specialised in the production and exportation of leather footwear, the sector is diversifying its offer. With growth across product segments, such as safety footwear, waterproof footwear and textile footwear, the sector has reached record highs in terms of exports. 

In 2021, Portugal exported footwear worth 1676 million euros to 162 countries on five continents. Germany, France and the Netherlands are the most relevant markets for Portuguese footwear. In the last decade, the sector grew the most in the US.

Sector growth has made it possible to maintain and even reinforce the importance of the cluster in the national economy. Portugal is one of the few countries in Europe that has not seen its footwear manufacturing activity decline.

The industrial core of the cluster, comprising the industries of footwear, footwear components and leather goods, represents 6.3% of employment in Portuguese manufacturing industries and 3.4% of their added value. The footwear cluster is, therefore, a vital pillar of the national economy and, especially, of the economy of the northern region.

The Portuguese footwear industry is highly concentrated in the northern region. More than 90% of footwear companies can be found in a circle of 50 km from the city of Porto, especially in Felgueiras and Guimarães, further north, and Oliveira de Azeméis, Santa Maria da Feira and S. João da Madeira, further south. In the Alcobaça region, in Benedita, there is also another strong industrial centre in the sector. 

The industry has technologically modernised. In the next three years, 140 million euros will be invested through the Footwear and Fashion cluster, led by APICCAPS and the Portuguese Technological Footwear Centre (CTCP), for the industry to become the international reference in the development of sustainable solutions. 

Through the FAIST project, the sector will also invest in the automation of key workstations and processes in existing production lines through the creation of automation islands. The creation of pilot tests and validation workshops for new technologies and processes, namely for digital technologies, recycling and waste treatment processes, design and prototyping of tools necessary for automation, is also underway.

The footwear sector has the ambition of encouraging a radical change in materials, technologies, processes and products. The BioShoes4All project intends to ensure a resilient national production basis for positioning in foreign markets where innovation, differentiation, quick and effective response, service, product quality, training and promotion are competitive arguments to outrun the competition. 

The project has a budget of 80 million euros and is divided into five pillars - biomaterials, ecological footwear, circular economy, advanced production technologies and training, and promotion. One of the main goals of the project is the development and production of new biomaterials and components, anchored on the principles of circular bioeconomy and sustainable development, in all its dimensions, creating differentiated solutions, contributing to catalyse a new sustainable biobased economy, efficient valuation of national and regional bio-resources, and decarbonization.

Today, the Portuguese footwear industry is internationally recognised for its sophisticated and quality footwear.