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William Wong: to prove sustainability we need transparent traceability

Oct 24, 2022 Hong Kong
Today we bring you an interview with William Wong, President at Global Footwear Sustainability Summit and Vice President at Hong Kong Footwear Association. We have talked with William about what is going on the footwear industry nowadays



Traceability

I think traceability is a very big word and is very important for sustainability in the long run. Honestly, sustainability is a very difficult word to justify because we don’t have international standards and the only way to prove we are sustainable is to have transparent traceability for our manufacturing and / or our materials. So, I think we can, as manufacturers or as retailers, we can promote traceability in our industries. Of course, we need the retailer and the consumer to cooperate in the traceability in the finish of the product and that (if happening) will be even fantastic.

Leather

Leather is a God given material. We have been using leather - I don’t know for how many years - since even before we had civilization, people would use skins of the animals after they eat the meat. Then they use the leather or the skins to keep warm and to use it for protection. Leather has been used for so many years, and I think is a very important material for the human life.

Sustainability

We have to talk about two different categories of companies. I come from Asia, where many footwear manufacturers just follow the customer’s orders and decisions on what to make and how to price it. So, (here) you will be relying on the consumer and the buyers to push for sustainability: sustainability of materials and sustainability of manufacturing. As for European manufacturers, a lot of them have their own brands and they have their retail business. So, these brands can do their own initiatives to promote sustainability in their own processes and in their own materials.

Pandemic

The pandemic changed a lot the situation in the global supply chain. On one side, it was a big challenge for everyone, including Hong Kong companies. On the other hand, it has created opportunities for Hong Kong companies in this industry, as a result of China’s lockdown. Other Asian countries needed supply chain from China to help their production or help their manufacturing and Hong Kong companies played a very important role helping the supply chain and our neighbour countries in Asia. So, I think it created a lot of opportunities for our members at the Hong Kong Footwear Association. So, it was a challenge and an opportunity.

In the first year, the consumption dropped significantly, and many orders were cancelled, and everyone was struggling. But as we evolved towards the pandemic, and late last year and earlier this year, the demand increased significantly. So, I think all the factories benefited from the new demand, and everyone is hoping the pandemic is over.  And we really hope there will be no more wave of the pandemic and that business is back to normal.

Most factories around the world, including European factories, but also Asian factories they all have very good level of order, at the moment. But the struggle is the price, and the question is either the retailers can afford to pay the increase in price, not only for the materials, but also for the logistic process as well.

Challenges of the industry

At the moment, with the Chinese borders closed due to the pandemic, a lot of retailers want to shift their order out from China to other countries. That is why at the moment, with COVID restrictions, the supply chain disruption, it is very difficult for the retailers to make decisions. But I think if there is no more wave of the pandemic, and everything stabilizes and the Chinese border opens, I think everything will stabilize. And come back to normal. Is just that people worry about the economic downturn. So, retailers are cautious ordering quantity from suppliers, which brings a new difficulty for manufacturers, with lower quantities and lower prices, factories have difficulties competing for orders.  

The retailers want to buy more goods and quickly, so factories are full and are having a good time. But after the pandemic slows down and all is back to normal, the challenge will be how the manufacturer and the retailer can be competitive, either they are competitive in price or competitive in their “sustainable retail concept”.

Consumers

The young generations definitely want more sustainable items. And that is why we have been talking a lot about sustainability. But the traditional consumer is still, at the moment, more looking at the prices.


This interview was recorded during the last edition of Expo Riva Schuh in June 2022.


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