Interview with Luís Onofre president of Apiccaps and CEC

Equal rules for all, capitalization of digitalization and sustainability

Pandemic, recession, international conflicts. We are leaving this behind us and, in part, we are still experiencing it, but there are still many challenges that await the European footwear industry, not only on a continental scale, but also globally, challenges that involve all levels and that embrace several issues of strategic importance, such as automation, digitalization, generational change and environmental sustainability.

We interviewed the Portuguese entrepreneur and designer, Luís Onofre, president of Apiccaps, the Portuguese association of the footwear, leather goods and components industry since 2017 and at the helm of the CEC – European Footwear Confederation since 2019, who makes an overview on these difficult years, marked by the international economic slowdown, inflation and a climate of general mistrust, promising a future that won’t be easy, but still fruitful and full of opportunities to be seized.

Mr. Onofre, 2024 will mark the milestone of 7 years at the helm of APICCAPS and 5 as President of CEC. What contribution do you think you have given to these prestigious bodies in many years of presidency and what challenges await you for the future?

“I don’t think it’s fair for me to make that assessment. I believe I’ve done what I could in what was a very demanding time. In that period, we’ve faced major challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak to the international economic slowdown, and other equally important challenges, such as the growing importance of issues like automation, digitisation or sustainability in our businesses. I believe that the European industry is now an international benchmark, especially in the development of new products and materials, and we owe this to the vision of countless entrepreneurs and the commitment of thousands of workers. As my term as CEC’s President comes to an end, I would naturally like to wish my successor, Rosana Perán, every success.”

What are the most pressing needs of the international markets and in which direction is the European footwear sector going?

“I would say that the biggest concern at the moment is the generalised economic downturn. Our main markets are anaemic and this naturally has an impact on our businesses. Secondly, I continue to defend the principles of free, fair and balanced trade. Unfortunately, there is no reciprocity in European policies. We are often faced with very unfavourable conditions for European companies. The same does not apply to our international competitors. Lastly, according to the European Commission, the European fashion industry will need 500 thousand new employees by the end of the decade. We need to be able to attract a new generation to our companies. For our part, we’re doing the homework. In Portugal, we are running promotional actions in 86 schools in the areas where the footwear industry is most concentrated, trying to make young people aware of the potential of our industry and our companies.”

What about the Portuguese one?

“I think the problems facing the Portuguese companies are the same as those facing the European companies. At the end of last year, we launched our strategic plan for the next decade, proposing 113 actions to make the Portuguese footwear industry a benchmark abroad. We are currently making a huge investment – 140 million euros – in automation, digitisation and sustainability. We’re playing our part.”

Both the UITIC Congress in Milan and the World Footwear Congress in Istanbul were recently held. How do these international events contribute to the sector and what are your thoughts on the matter?

“These were two very important events, in my opinion. Firstly, it enabled a fruitful dialogue and put the European industry at the centre of the equation. We opened our doors to the outside world and demonstrated our ability to lead in challenging areas such as innovation, creativity and even sustainability.”

The topic of sustainability is now on everyone’s lips and is a clear prerequisite in every sector. As regards footwear, what is specifically required today and what do you think of the many regulations applied unceasingly by the EU?

“We must all strive to meet the European Union and ONU usability targets. We can do more and better. But let’s be clear: the rules must be the same for everyone, otherwise, we are clearly distorting the competition.”

Events such as the pandemic and wars have had and still have a negative impact on markets in every sector. How have the increase in prices in terms of raw materials, supply and transport affected the footwear market and what are the future weapons to face market downturns?

“That’s an excellent question. The truth is that prices have risen sharply and still haven’t stabilised. This has led to entropy in the market. Retail itself remains under pressure, inventories have built up and the markets are taking longer to recover than we would like. According to the World Footwear Yearbook, 24 billion shoes were produced worldwide in 2022. Asia accounts for 88% of production. In our view, that’s just not reasonable.”

What significant changes do you foresee for the footwear market in 10 years?

“There are new markets to reach and new audiences emerging that are increasingly informed and demanding. Our companies need to be at the forefront of the new product development process. Digitalisation and sustainability are clearly major opportunities for our companies. We must be able to capitalise on them.”

Luís Onofre, presidente di Apiccaps e della CEC