Non-leather footwear: new export hope
The country is now supplying sports shoes, sandals, flip-flops and boots to a number of leading global retailers including H&M, Decathlon, Kappa, Skechers, Fila and Puma.
Non-leather footwear exports stood at $171.57 million last fiscal year, which was 13.3 percent of the leather industry's total exports that year, according to Export Promotion Bureau.
During the July-October period this year, exports of such footwear rose 11.47 percent year-on-year to $58.40 million.
An increased number of global retailers are sourcing artificial leather items from Bangladesh due to a rise in production costs in China, said M Abu Taher, chairman of Fortuna Leather Craft Ltd, a noted supplier of such products.
Fortuna, which has already set up a separate unit to produce polyurethane (PU) leather, has so far exported seven lakh pairs of such shoes to H&M, he said, adding that another eight lakh pairs are scheduled for shipment in March next year.
PU leather is a man-made material that replicates the look and feel of genuine leather. The material is extremely pliable and stretches like a spandex. It has a shinier appearance and generally is far less thick than real leather.
The price of synthetic or polysynthetic leather footwear is three times cheaper than the genuine leather ones, according to Taher.
A pair of non-leather shoes costs $3.2, whereas leather ones cost around $9. Similarly, a pair of non-leather boots cost around $10 against $30 for the pure leather ones, he said.
Also the chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leathergoods and Footwear Exporters' Association, Taher said he is now planning to introduce night shifts at his factory to meet the huge demand for such non-traditional footwear.
Another reason for the fast rise in demand for synthetic footwear is that the non-compliance issues surrounding the leather industry, especially the relocation of tanneries to Savar, he said. Karnaphuli Shoe Industries Ltd, a company of the Korea-based Youngone Group that makes fashionable canvas and athletic shoes, is also witnessing high export growth of such items.
The company exports 60,000-70,000 pairs of such footwear each week to Decathlon, The North Face (TNF) and Puma, among others, said a senior official of the company wishing not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Maf Shoes, another leading producer of non-traditional footwear that has a capacity to produce 5,000 pairs of shoes daily, is also witnessing impressive export growth, said Md Mostafizur Rahman, the company's product development executive.
The company's orders for such products have doubled since last year, he said, adding that Decathlon and H&M are the company's running buyers, but it has supplied to other leading retailers such as Kappa, Skechers and Fila.
Considering the huge growth potential, EPB has also started to calculate such exports separately from this fiscal year.
The leather industry exported a record $1.29 billion last fiscal year, up 32.12 percent year-on-year, according to EPB.
Of the total exports from the leather industry, 60 percent go to the European Union, 30 percent to Japan and 10 percent to the rest of the world, according to industry insiders.