Video: Portugal's shoemakers swap heels for masks

Manufacturers in Portugal's footwear industry are having to adapt to survive lockdowns, from marketing more comfy designs to focusing on healthcare.

Editor’s note:
The following is a transcript of the accompanying video. ©2020 Thomson Reuters.

Portugal boasts a world-renowned footwear industry. Famous for its leather shoes, it employs tens of thousands of people — across nearly 1,500 companies. But manufacturers are having to adapt to survive, as Europe grapples with further lockdowns.

Luxury shoe designer Luis Onofre normally caters for Hollywood, with the likes of Naomi Watts and Paris Hilton wearing his creations. But with cancelled social events came cancelled orders.

[Onofre said]: "It was a scary period. We had two to three months — March, April and May — when we practically stopped and I think that happened to the entire industry, at least 70% of it, stopped."

Portugal exports more than 90% of its shoes — and brands like Onofre's largely rely on international fairs to reach clients. But most were cancelled this year. Between January and August, exports have already dropped 17% from a year ago. [Onofre said]: "For us in fashion it will be extremely difficult because we already had a summer during which shopkeepers did not sell. They are loaded with stock they will have to sell next summer."

Some brands are pivoting from luxury to comfort, marketing shoes designed for wearing at home —  or plastic shoes for healthcare professionals. Others are taking more radical steps.

"In the first wave, we didn't have a big drop in terms of orders, which was very good, but we obviously had a problem receiving raw materials. And that's when we had to reinvent ourselves a bit and adapt."

That’s Orlando Andrade, head of marketing for ToWorkFor — a brand that specialises in safety shoes for the construction industry. The company radically transformed its production lines, making masks and developing other products.

[Andrade said]:"If anything positive can be taken from this, it's that it made us look at reality in a different way, see potential where it wasn’t before because we were in our comfort zone.”