5 Aug 2008
Little Feet(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 02,2008)
Kids are sure to be swept off their feet by the fancy, cheery-coloured and comfortable range of children's footwear on offer from Hong Kong
Be it dainty ballerina slippers, gumboots for the rain or just plain Mary Janes, Hong Kong is the first stop for buyers from around the world looking for a shoe that perfectly fits any little foot.
Among local specialists in children's footwear is Sun Lik Shoes & Metal Co Ltd, which produces mainly under OEM terms for well-known chain stores operating in the US and Europe. These two markets account for 60% and 40% of the company's sales respectively.
Sun Lik firm primarily makes soft-soled (mostly stitch-and-turn) booties, sandals and trainers for babies and toddlers, as well as ballet slipper styles.
"Children's shoe designs are fairly standard, such as ballerina and classic Mary Janes, and girls' shoes are always more in demand than boys', but the current trend is for bright, metallic or glittery colours," observes Development Manager Venus Li.
Babies' shoes require the softest materials, and Sun Lik buys its leather - cow, lambskin and nubuck - from China and Korea, while PU is sourced from China and Taiwan. Fabric and EVA come from China.
Ms Li says that ballerina-style shoes are currently popular sellers, such as model GS 49, a square-toed ballerina shoe designed for walking outdoors. It features a metallic pink PU upper, a bow with contrast stitching, a die-cut rubber outsole, a PU insole and cement construction.
The FOB Hong Kong price for this style ranges from US$4-7 per pair. Leather shoes are US$6-9 on average, while PU or fabric shoes are US$2.50-5.00.
During the past eight years, Sun Lik has also become known for its canvas and leather ballet shoes for both child and adult dancers - a line that started after a customer asked for ballet shoes for one of its clients.
"Kids' shoes are 80% of our business and ballet shoes make up 20%, and we hope to develop more European customers for our children's shoes," says Ms Li.
Walkin' in the rain
When it comes to waterproof footwear, look no further than rubber boot and snow boot specialist, Vanguard Shoe Co Ltd.
"Before, our business was mainly children's rain boots," says Director Susan Sung. "Now we are half-half adult and children's, especially since ladies' fashion rubber boots have become popular around the world."
Every boot is 100% handmade from natural rubber sourced from Thailand and Malaysia. The rubber is cut piece by piece, wrapped around a mould and then glued. Next, a pattern is hand-printed before the boot undergoes vulcanization for one hour. The final step is waterproof testing.
"It is very labour-intensive - more than 40 processes are carried out by hand to produce one pair of rubber boots," explains Ms Sung. "Not many companies are doing this - it is hard work and needs a lot of investment."
The firm exports to department stores, shoe shops, local distributors, wholesalers and importers in Europe (70%), Japan (10%) and other markets (20%) comprising the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Half of the decorative patterns on the boots are exclusive designs to OEM customers, while the other half are the firm's own designs. Top-selling patterns for girls' boots are different kinds of floral motifs in pink and red. Boys prefer animal designs and shades of blue, black and green.
Children's rubber boots are available in European sizes 19-35, ladies' boots in European sizes 36-41, and men's boots in European sizes 42-47. Rubber boots are priced at FOB China (ex-Shanghai or Xingang) US$5-8 per pair.
Style and comfort are important features when it comes to casual children's shoes, and one slip-on girls' model with both is proving a hot seller for Comfort Star Footwear Ltd.
The metallic PU shoe (model L85-429E), which features a PU upper with decorative stitching, an elastic strap, a rubber sole and a micro-suede lining, is available in European sizes 22-36.
"Customers like the styling, it is comfortable and the price is competitive," explains Manager Eric Tong. "The micro-suede lining is more comfortable than PU or PVC and it absorbs sweat, so it provides a better fit because the child's foot won't slip up and down as much."
Other hot sellers this year include sports sandals and low boots. "The sole of the sports sandal is flexible and when kids walk or run it is more comfortable," Mr Tong says, adding that FOB Hong Kong prices for all models are available upon request.
The firm exports to international chain stores, department stores and importers in Europe (especially France, the UK, Belgium and Romania), North America, Australia, and the Middle East.
Taiwan, Korea and China are the main sources for the PU, fabric and leather used to produce Comfort Star's shoes, with PU, micro-suede and suede leather the most popular choices.
Comfort Star also offers its customers peace of mind by providing a shoe-testing service to ensure that its products meet test standards such as pulling and colour fastness.
"We can either do the testing ourselves or send it out to an independent testing centre such as ITS, SGS or BV," says Mr Tong, adding that about 30% of the firm's customers request the service.
It seems that Hong Kong children's shoe manufacturers are more than ready to provide the perfect fit for every little foot.
TEXT BY HELEN WONG