According to Huntsman, European suppliers to the footwear industry have adopted a more automated approach to manufacturing, a factor that is narrowing the cost differential between the regions.
It’s a philosophy that athletic shoemaker New Balance bought into a long time ago. The company has number of manufacturing sites within the US, a factory in the UK that produces 28,000 pairs of running shoes a week - plus another facility in Norway.
Figures on Wikepedia say 30% of the New Balance shoes sold in the European market are manufactured at the UK’s Flimby facility, in northwest England.
Key to the success of the New Balance brand is, as the firm’s executive vp of operations Herb Spivak said, “we do not require that we make our US shoes less expensively than we can import them.”
New Balance’s production style involves a great deal of automation compared to traditional shoemaking methods. Spivak says a typical New Balance production line will have between four to six workers. “This contrasts Asia where there can be 100 workers in an assembly line stretching over 90 metres,” he said.
“Although the long assembly line looks efficient, our small team will in fact produce four to five times more pairs per minute per person than the Asian line,” added Spivak.