The history of the Brazilian footwear industry starts in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul with the arrival of German and Italian settlers back in the 1820s. These immigrants brought their culture of craftsmanship, especially in leather goods. It was not until the late 1800s that a consumer market for shoes was really created, and the first tanneries and machinery manufacturing businesses started to appear, thus enabling the manufacturing process to become more industrialized.
The first shoe factory in Brazil opened in the state of Rio Grande do Sul 1888. The consumer demand for shoes from that state grew annually eventually leading to the formation of what is currently one of the largest industrial clusters in the footwear industry in the world.
In the 1960s, shoe sales were dramatically expanded by exports to overseas markets, with the first large-scale Brazilian export sales and contracts involving shipments to the United States. Brazilian domestic production in that decade was around 80 million pairs of shoes per year.
In time, new markets started opening and sales opportunities grew. Shoe manufacturers made direct contact with international buyers and worked directly with their line builders. Today, footwear represents a top export for Brazil, generating US$ 1.5 billion in revenues in international operations. There are over 8,000 Brazilian footwear manufacturing businesses located in several different states, with the largest footwear clusters located in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina, and Ceará. The largest producer of shoes is now in the Northeastern part of the country, responsible for 71% of the exports.
Even though Brazil’s footwear exports were impacted by Chinese industry, changes in the United States market and an appreciating currency, Brazil is the most important producer outside of Asia, being responsible for 4.4% of world production (according to World Footwear Yearbook). It retains a solid industrial base with a world renowned reputation that is poised to grow as pricing from Asia increases, other countries import Brazilian shoes and its currency declines.
Footwear companies either sell their own brands or “white label” brands for their buyers. With the Internet, there are even more opportunities to directly-source quality shoes from Brazilian manufacturers and buyers can compare quality, style and price in determining who to order from. A premiere B2B trade portal, based in Brazil, with several dozen of the best Brazilian shoe manufacturers is B2Brazil.com. Buyers can browse and search for free for the best producers for what they want and need. Buyers can then contact the producers to work to close a purchase. The opportunities for trade have never been better.
For a detailed study on the Brazilian footwear industry, read Leather Footwear in Brazil.