7 Feb 2007
Hiking Heaven(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 01,2007)
Ironsteel Worldwide Ltd
|Ruggedly handsome and durable hiking shoes are the latest success story from Ironsteel Worldwide Ltd|
The very name Ironsteel suggests strength, and rugged durability is one of the attributes that have earned the company's footwear its enviable international reputation for hard-wearing quality.
According to export manager Sam Ng, Ironsteel Worldwide Ltd began making footwear in 1990, primarily for use by the military in the US and Taiwan.
"Then we manufactured for industry before slowly moving into fashion," he explains. "In the last five years we have moved into technical hiking shoes."
Current product lines include safety boots for industrial use and outdoor footwear recommended for specific activities, including hunting, light trekking and backpacking.
Ironsteel's multifunction footwear is also popular. "That range doesn't have to be too technical, but must have a very good grip on the sole," Ng explains. "The hiking shoes cannot be too soft on the bottom because they are used for walking over rocks, so you have to have a special insole and a certain stiffness in the shoes to protect the ankle from twisting."
Waterproof shoes, which the company is constantly working to improve, are another speciality. "The issue there is combining waterproofing with breathability," Ng concedes.
Ironsteel has a special membrane it buys from Sympatex in Germany that makes hiking boots waterproof and breathable. "We also cooperate with a very good outsole supplier from Italy, Vibram, which is the biggest outsole manufacturer in the world," he adds.
The company manufactures at its own factory in Dongguan on the Chinese mainland, which has two production lines staffed by around 400 people.
"One line is Goodyear welt construction and the other is cemented construction," he explains, adding that each line makes around 1,500 pairs of shoes per day. "We're not a big factory - we want to keep the quality."
Ironsteel has specialised in Goodyear welt construction from the beginning, producing footwear that features a sound balance of sturdiness and comfort.
Some 80%-90% of Ironsteel's materials are imported from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany and Korea, while the remaining 10%-20% is sourced from American-based suppliers with factories in China.
"We use leather a lot, and textiles, and get our steel toecaps from Holland, Taiwan and France," Ng explains, adding that Ironsteel is moving to production using plastic and fibre composite caps which keep feet warmer in winter.
This emphasis on cutting-edge technology has seen the company work with top-quality suppliers around the world to develop new products, and it also invests heavily in research and development.
"We are always at the forefront of technology," Ng affirms. "We have developed a new system of waterproof construction with our Italian partners and are already starting production."
Ironsteel patents all its innovative construction designs to deter copycat products. "We have patented technology that will keep us ahead for at least three or four years," Ng says.
He says "about 99%" of Ironsteel's business is OEM/ODM. "We work together with customers on designs, and have our own development team as well," Ng adds. "Once they have chosen a design it becomes exclusive to their brand."
The company has its own Ironsteel brand, but according to Ng it does not intend to develop it in the company's major markets - the US and Australia - or in most European countries in the near future.
"At the moment we are not keen to push it because we are happy with the other business we are doing," he reveals, adding that Ironsteel does sell its brand in Norway, Holland and Italy.
"Sales are increasing in those three countries, but we put other brands first there because we are working well with them and we don't want to compete with our customers."
It usually takes around 60 days from order confirmation to delivery, with a maximum of 75 days for new orders, while repeat orders can be handled in about 20 days.
FOB prices start at about US$20 per pair of shoes or boots and go up to US$49, with sales proving so strong that Ironsteel's annual turnover is around US$110m.
"Things have been going very well for us in Europe since 2000," observes Ng, who believes clients like to work with Ironsteel because of the firm's consistent quality and on-time delivery. "We're still growing - we have space in our factory for four production lines, but we want to take things slowly."
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Ironsteel Worldwide Ltd