US (Horse) Footwear Industry Outsourcing to China

Before toys and toothpaste became the favored buzzwords for all that is (arguably) wrong with outsourcing to China, “Nike sweatshop” held the crown, serving – as a proxy – for the mass exodus of global footwear manufacturers to Chinese factories. It’s an old story, and it isn’t changing, either: in 2006, 8 of every 10 pairs of shoes sold in the United States were made in China.

Shoes, more than most products, seem to invoke a sort of economic nostalgia (and nationalism) on the part of anti-globalization activists and connoisseurs of high-end leather goods. In Europe -and, particularly, in Italy – the idea of replacing the sepia-toned village shoemaker (preferably based in a mountain village) with an automated factory in Wenzhou is nothing short of economic treason. Which is, perhaps, one reason that the EU recently took the extreme step of imposing some pretty serious duties on Chinese shoe imports.

I should note that economic nationalism is no less strong in the US, and that’s why I’m fairly sure that somebody – sooner or later – is going to get worked up about the outsourcing of horseshoes. Below, a photo of a Chinese worker completing work on a stamping mold that will – I’m told – produce 1 million horse shoes annually for export to the United States.

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Before going further with this, I should note that my visit to this factory was an accident of sorts; I was actually visiting a neighboring facility when I was invited to take a look at this one by someone other than the contracting American horseshoe company. Thus, out of respect for the individuals who allowed me into the facility I will not post any identifying information about the factory, the contractor, or its location – other than to say that it is located in a Northern Chinese manufacturing center. Continue reading