Why don't shoe companies make large sizes for women? - The decline of British women's shoe manufacturing
A recent BBC article by Caroline Bullock explored the lack of choice in footwear for women who need large shoe sizes, highlighting the damaging impact of wearing ill-fitting shoes and concluding that the root of the cause could be down to the shift of UK shoe manufacturing to overseas markets.
"The UK footwear chain Jones Bootmaker was saved from administration earlier this year but its new owners are still closing a number of its stores - which is a setback for women with larger feet and few options" writes Caroline Bullock
"Since the 1970s, the average shoe size of men and women in the UK has increased by two sizes, from a size eight to 10 and four to six, respectively, according to research from the College of Podiatry."
Shoe Size Availability
So with the average women's shoe size increasing one would expect larger sizes such as 9-11 to be more widely available. Yet, most shoe shops only stock up to size 8. The footwear industry isn't responding to the need of many UK women, who now need not only bigger shoes but wider shoes. Sargasso & Grey commissioned a survey and discovered over half of the 900 respondents felt they needed a wider shoe fit. What this tells us is that feet are getting wider but shoe companies are not responding and making shoes to properly accommodate this change in width.
Dr Jill Halstead-Rastrick from the College of Podiatry says "Increased weight splays the feet and we are seeing a lot of adults wearing shoes that are too narrow or small. This is only going to become more of a problem as we continue to grow in stature - we need a wider variety of larger sizes." Laura West of the Society of Shoe Fitters asserts that ill-fitting shoes can lead to a range of painful ailments, not only limited to painful feet: "If feet hurt you shift your weight unnaturally when you walk and this wears out other joints and tendons leading to hip, knee and ankle and neck problems later on." So why are there so few options available in large and wide shoe options? Laura West believes the problem stems from the demise of British manufacturing in the 1980s, when many UK brands shifted production overseas to cut costs. This has meant less research into foot development and a deeper disconnect between the manufacturer and consumer needs, she says. "When we produced shoes here we could run short production lines including larger sizes at little extra cost, but in an overseas factory you have to order in far greater numbers, which becomes cost prohibitive
"Independent shops can't compete with low cost imports - and they would have been the ones to feedback the inability to supply certain items like larger sizes to their manufacturers' representatives.
By contrast the men's market has benefitted from higher-priced items such as Goodyear welted shoes which enjoy a healthy export trade to Europe, Asia and US. So why is this? Well, in general men own less shoes than women; they shop less for shoes and one pair of shoes will be suitable for a range of occasions, whereas women buy many more shoes for a range of occasions. This focus on fashion, often at the expense of quality has exacerbated the problem for many UK women's shoe makers. Although women will probably spend more in total on shoes than men, they also buy many more pairs so the average price they are prepared to pay per pair is a lot lower. Men, buying fewer shoes less often, are prepared to spend in excess of £150 for a pair of quality shoes for everyday use. On the contrary women will only spend that amount of money on a pair for a special occasion. As a result many independent retailers will be willing to stock higher priced men's shoes but will only stock women's shoes up to a price point of about £100- £120.
Shoe making in the UK is significantly more expensive than on the continent or in the Far East but if shoe companies can sell their shoes for a price in excess of £175 (as is the chase for men's shoe brands) it makes UK shoe making viable. Whilst it is understandable that women won't wish to pay such a high price for all of their shoes, if the majority of women only by luxury priced shoes on the odd occasion the result is that it isn't viable for shoe companies to get their women's shoes made in the UK. The issue is compounded with cheaper imports of women's shoes from China and Taiwan. So why does this impact shoe sizes? Well, as China now accounts for about 65% of shoes made worldwide, and with this production coming from a country where the average female shoe size is a UK three-and-half, this virtual monopoly has hit shoes sizes. The good news is that Sargasso & Grey offer women's shoes up to size 9, and because they are also made in a wider fit, women with large feet can find style and comfort with our elegant heels! We are also proud to offer a capsule collection of stilettos which are lovingly handmade in England. For the full article click here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40777046