Sneakers Still Sport a `Made in USA' Label Most of the US Athletic Footwear Industry Is Based Overseas, but a Number of American Companies Have Set out to Prove That There Are Benefits to Doing Business at Home and Have No Plans to Move

By Shelley Donald Coolidge, Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 1993 | Go to article overview

Sneakers Still Sport a `Made in USA' Label Most of the US Athletic Footwear Industry Is Based Overseas, but a Number of American Companies Have Set out to Prove That There Are Benefits to Doing Business at Home and Have No Plans to Move


Shelley Donald Coolidge, Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WHILE the heart and "sole" of America's athletic footwear industry, including giants Nike Inc. and Reebok International Ltd., manufacture their products on distant shores, a handful of companies remain dedicated to manufacturing in the United States.

In the $11.6 billion industry, 85 to 90 percent of all athletic footwear sold on the US market, excluding canvas shoes, is manufactured overseas, says Thomas Doyle, director of information and research for the National Sporting Goods Association in Mount Prospect, Ill.

About five companies still manufacture parts of their lines in the US. That includes firms that design and assemble shoes domestically but use components supplied from overseas, says Gregg Hartley, executive director of the Athletic Footwear Association. The companies include: Vans Incorporated in Orange, Calif., Converse Inc., in North Reading, Mass., Keds Corporation in Cambridge, Mass., New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc., in Boston, and Hyde Athletic Industries Inc., in Peabody, Mass., maker of Saucony athletic shoes.

Athletic shoes still made entirely in the US, such as Vans and part of Converse's line, are made primarily of canvas and rubber, Mr. Hartley says. Since these components are subject to a high import tax, it costs more to make them overseas, he adds.

Contrary to what most consumers believe, the athletic footwear industry never left the US, Hartley says. "It is not really a case of manufacturing going offshore," he says. "{Offshore} is where the business developed." `Made in Europe'

In the late 1960s, the only athletic shoes considered to be manufactured in the US were Converse and Keds, Hartley says. "High end" footwear was manufactured primarily in West Germany and Czechoslovakia, he says, because "the quality of the shoes and the cost to build them were so far ahead of what was being done in this country."

Nike was the first to make products in Asian factories - China, Taiwan, Korea, and Indonesia. The quality was superior to the products manufactured in Western Europe, and the costs were cheaper, he says.

"That's been the whole concept behind the development of the athletic footwear business as we know it," Hartley says.

The advantages of manufacturing in the US include better production and quality control and more flexibility in meeting the sales demands of retailers, companies say. But size, volume of business, and particular "niche markets" that companies fill factor into companies producing here, Hartley says.

It is easier for developing companies such as New Balance, Hyde, and Vans to control their inventories and production processes in the US.

But Mr. Doyle argues that companies that manufacture in the US do not have a quality advantage over companies that manufacture offshore, because American athletic shoes that are manufactured overseas are still designed, tested, and modeled in the US. "The control might be better in domestic production," Doyle says, "but it doesn't necessarily mean the quality is better."

Companies admit that manufacturing in the US costs more and drives up the price of the product. …

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