Sneakers are a big business. The footwear industry is the second most important fashion segment within retail behind apparel, and sneakers accounted for 16% of footwear revenue in 2019. In 2020, the total global footwear market was valued at $70 billion, projected to increase to $102 billion by 2025. Led by Nike, companies based in the U.S. dominate the market. With American brands being such a pivotal player in footwear sales, it's surprising that very few brands manufacture their products locally.
Most of the household names in athletic sneakers outsource production to other countries to lower overhead costs. In 2019, China was the world's leading footwear producer, with 13.5 billion pairs of shoes produced. India, Vietnam, and Indonesia joined China that year to account for more than 75% of footwear production worldwide.
The rise of exported manufacturing has led to controversy. Brands can cut production costs by taking advantage of unregulated labor markets in other countries. This has led to allegations of unsafe working conditions and severely underpaid workers. Over the past few years, there’s been an effort to rebuild domestic manufacturing by brands old and new. Here are the best brands producing athletic sneakers made in America.
Carson Footwear specializes in minimalist running shoes. Marketing executive Everett Carson launched the brand in Milwaukie, Oregon after years of frustration with wearing uncomfortable imported shoes. Since its launch in 2013, Carson Footwear has expanded into producing shoes for cross-fit and gym shoes. Although some of their models contain leather products, consumers can request vegan construction during the ordering process.
Opie Way releases canvas and leather casual sneakers for men and women. They embrace a slow fashion ethos, touting high-end luxury with a handcrafted approach. Founded by Justin and Amanda James in 2019, all shoes are constructed using materials sourced within the U.S. and produced in their North Carolina-based micro-factory. While Opie Way isn't vegan, the brand has incorporated some sustainable practices, using vegetable-tanned leather instead of the chrome-tanning method standardly used on leather.
Terry Armstrong and Lew Hayden founded San Antonio Shoemakers in 1976. It's one of the oldest brands producing and selling sneakers made in America. The brand produces a range of footwear — from athletic shoes to dress shoes to walking shoes — in their factory based in Del Rio, Texas. Pairs are personally handcrafted in-house and distributed in twelve countries.
Adidas is the second most popular sneaker company in the U.S. after Nike. The brand had worldwide footwear sales of $13.7 billion in 2020. With that type of production, Adidas attempted to establish a manufacturing factory in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2017.
The plan was ambitious: set up speed factories in two of their biggest markets — U.S. and Europe — that relied on robot automation to quickly produce small batches of customized shoes. This would allow distribution to those critical markets at an expedited pace.
By 2019, Adidas had announced both factories would close within a year, and the technology was relocated to factories in China and Vietnam. The Speedfactory AM4 was one of Adidas' more successful releases during the time. Although Adidas is no longer producing the shoe, it is still available on secondary resale sites like Goat and StockX.
As of 2021, New Balance is the only major sneaker brand maintaining a production presence in the U.S. The bulk of the New England company's manufacturing happens overseas. Select sneakers in America across five factories as part of its Made Collection, which also has a factory presence in the U.K.
Still, there have been some questions about how much of its production is happening in the U.S. The company designates a pair of New Balance shoes as "made in the U.S.A." if it has a domestic value of 70% or more. In other words, New Balance can claim a shoe is "made in the U.S.A." even if it is partially assembled overseas or made with imported materials. In 2018, New Balance expanded its Made Collection to include select styles from its subsidiary, P.F. Flyers.
If you’d like to learn more about the sneaker manufacturing process and want to explore career paths in the industry, check out Yellowbrick’s Ultimate Sneaker Career Guide.
To learn how to produce sustainable athletic footwear and the future of footwear production, also check out the new Yellowbrick Footwear Business Foundations class.
Adidas moves high-tech Speedfactory to Asia, closing factories in US, Germany | https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/adidas-moves-high-tech-speedfactory-asia-factory-us-germany/567137/
Nike Still on Top of the Sneaker World | https://www.statista.com/chart/13470/athletic-footwear-sales/
Value of the sneakers market worldwide from 2012 to 2025 | https://www.statista.com/statistics/1017918/sneakers-market-value-forecast-worldwide/