The footwear industry in Europe is a traditional manufacturing industry that produces a high-added value consumer product. It is part of the Creative Industries and of European Culture and Heritage. In 2016, the industry was comprised of 20 300 companies employing approximately 290 000 people. Europe represents the second biggest consumer market in the world (after China), and has the highest average export price. Driven by creativity and innovation, footwear products manufactured in the EU can be considered as scientifically-led technical items with a distinctive high quality. Its exports to non-EU countries have increased by 40% in quantity and 90% in value from 2009 to 2016. In order to maintain this key advantage, the EU industry has to keep investing in technological and non-technological innovation and promote high-added value.
At a time when new consumer habits are completely disrupting most consumer goods industries, the European footwear industry heads toward consumers’ well-being and product sustainability as key competitive advantage to satisfy their demands. The increased health-consciousness and the heightend importance given to responsible products by today’s consumers have to be incorporated in product development. The entire product life-cycle must be reconsidered in terms of performance and functionality, which is commonly described as footwear comfort. Longer life expectancy requires particular attention if one wants to prevent and alleviate body damage. In addition, retailing practices and consumer behaviour are shifting toward more sustainability. Moreover, consumers increasingly demand personalized and differentiated shoes, which opens opportunities to more creativity while ensuring that comfort and sustainability concerns are satisfied. New sustainable materials, eco-design and marketing models are powerful tools to increase product differentiation. It is therefore a priority to equip designers with creative and innovative skills and a deeper understanding of the mechanics that determine footwear comfort and sustainability.