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Ravishing Rainwear(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 02,2006)

Vanguard Shoe Co Ltd

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Vanguard Shoe Co Ltd exports stylish quality rubber footwear that features elaborate colour printing and watertight seals

There may once have been a time when a rubber boot was simply a form of wet-weather protection, but no longer says Vanguard Shoe Co Ltd manager Susan Sung.

She should know, as her company exports quality rubber footwear worldwide to customers who demand stylish designs, elaborate colour printing and watertight seals.

The company is transforming the humble rubber boot into a true style icon; having been established in 1999 when Sung took over an existing Hong Kong company with strong working relationships with a number of Chinese mainland factories that specialised in rubber footwear.

She changed the name, began to build up the order books, and focused on the high-quality end of a market which she saw as evolving into a branch of the fashion industry.

"We work with five or six factories, some located on the northern mainland near Beijing and Tianjin, and others near Shanghai and Hangzhou," Sung explains.

She adds that manufacturing costs are higher in the south, and expertise in rubber footwear is concentrated in the locations where the contractors are based.

"We work with the factories rather than owning them, but we are the largest buyer, which gives us a great deal of control over such matters as punctual shipment and quality," Sung says.

Monthly production capacity exceeds 100,000 pairs of boots, with much of the work done by hand in a highly labour-intensive process.

"A high level of workmanship is required, which restricts daily output," she explains.

As a result, Vanguard is "quite flexible" with its minimum orders and will normally accept orders of 2,000 pairs in up to two styles or colours delivered within 40 days of order confirmation.

FOB prices range from about US$3-8, depending on construction, colour, style and quantity, with children's boots at the lower end of the scale and ladies' fashion boots at the upper.

"Printing is expensive for fashion boots, and the more colours the higher the price," Sung observes. "Also if there are extras, like a zipper, that means more handwork."

Rubber is sourced in Malaysia and Thailand, while PVC for cheaper footwear comes mostly from the mainland, as does the fabric for the linings.

"Much of our production is for customer brands, like Ponny in Scandinavia, and Ribbit, which is a children's brand," Sung reveals, adding that Vanguard also has its own brands - Aqua for adults and Aqua Fun for children.

The company's main market is Europe - specifically Germany, England, Italy and France - as well as Norway and Denmark. "The Scandinavian market is important," Sung adds. "We also sell to Japan, Australia and North America, including Canada."

Sung claims Vanguard can offer customers a more flexible service by using mainland subcontractors rather than owning and operating its own factories. "For example we can produce rubber boots and also cheaper boots in PVC," she explains.

The company can execute customer designs, but is also able to offer original work to clients through an agency which also designs Vanguard's own Aqua lines.

Fashion statements aside, Vanguard also continues to manufacture basic functional waterproof footwear. "We make a wide range of different kinds of rain boots, including industrial and safety boots and boots for agriculture," Sung explains.

Other lines designed for specific applications include fishing boots, snow boots, hunting boots, hiking boots, sailing boots and rubber shoe covers.

Sung says Vanguard also gets orders to match boots with raincoats and an umbrella as a set. "Ladies wear rubber boots as fashion boots now, but there are also classic styles for men in green or black," she adds. "Designs for children have also become more colourful, and sometimes have cartoon characters printed on them."

Business is good, but Vanguard has plans to build its own brands and to develop a presence in markets in which it is as yet a relatively minor player.

"We don't sell much to South America and we would like to develop that market," Sung says. "We also want to try to sell more to North America, and to New Zealand, which we think are markets waiting to be developed."

WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE

Vanguard Shoe Co Ltd

Unit 11, 15/F,
New Commerce Centre,
19 On Sum St, Sha Tin,
New Territories, Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2645-0129
Fax: 852-2144-5806
Email:
info@vgdboot.com
Web: www.vgdboot.com