August 30, 2023

Should You Manufacture Shoes in China? An Insider’s Guide

Is going to China for shoe manufacturing a good idea? It's a big decision. And China is a big player in manufacturing, but is it the right place for footwear manufacturing? 

In this article, we'll delve into the reasons why China is a strong contender and also discuss some red flags you'll want to be aware of. 

Let’s start with a dozen pro-China arguments. 

Why go to China for Shoe Manufacturers? 12 Pro-China Arguments 

China has established an excellent reputation for itself in the manufacturing industry. But when it comes to China, shoes, and manufacturers, why should you opt-in this direction?

  1. Established Footwear Industry: China has a mature, well-developed footwear industry with decades of experience producing shoes. Because of this, the country has a large and skilled workforce suited to this industry.

  2. Cost-Effectiveness: Due to the lower cost of living, worker salaries, and material costs in China, manufacturing shoes in this country can be considerably more cost-effective than other options. 

  3. Supply Chain Efficiency: A robust supply chain infrastructure lies behind China’s manufacturing industry. This ready availability of materials allows Chinese manufacturers to easily produce whatever you require. 

  4. Diverse Manufacturing Capabilities: Chinese manufacturers are equipped to work with a wide range of different materials. This means that they can easily produce shoes from almost any material that you may require.

  5. Scalability: Because Chinese manufacturers have such a wide range of capabilities, they can easily scale either up or down to meet your requirements. From large runs encompassing thousands of shoes to smaller batches of a few hundred, you can rely on China for shoes and manufacturers that can produce them.

  6. Technical Expertise: Thanks to their wealth of experience in the field, Chinese manufacturers have advanced technical capabilities in the shoe production industry. Many have extremely detailed understandings of the process and have also invested in high-quality production machinery. 

  7. Customization and Design Flexibility: Chinese manufacturers are often adept at helping you customize products. They also have great flexibility in terms of design. They can help you produce unique designs, both easily and efficiently.

  8. Efficient Time-to-Market: Thanks to their abundance of materials and skilled workforce, Chinese manufacturers can produce items and have them ready for market in a remarkably short timeframe. 

  9. Global Trade Relations: Since China has been at the manufacturing forefront for so many years, it has built a global network of trade relations. This often gives Chinese manufacturers an advantage, both in terms of material acquisition and shipping opportunities to other countries.

  10. Innovation and Technology: China is consistently at the forefront when it comes to adopting new manufacturing technologies and innovative advancements. This means that they’re often ahead of the curve where efficient manufacturing is concerned.

  11.  Economies of Scale: Because China has so many manufacturers and factories, many of which have large output capacities, the country makes it easier for businesses to benefit from the economies of scale. By buying materials in bulk, manufacturers can pay less per unit, allowing clients to pay less per unit for the finished manufactured product.

  12. Supplier Clusters: Certain regions of China are known specifically for their abilities in certain areas of manufacturing. This means that you can rely on high-quality production of footwear in certain regions. This is mainly because the manufacturers in these areas have already been producing shoes for such an extended timeframe.

How to Import Shoes from China & The Headaches That Come Along

When it comes to the manufacturing industry, actually having products manufactured is but a tiny part of the overall process. Imports and exports are also a significant part of the process when manufacturing internationally.

How do you go about importing shoes from the China shoe manufacturers of your choice? Well, importing products from China is a two-part process: 

  1. Ensure that all the paperwork is set for exporting the products out of China.

  2. Ensure that all the paperwork is set for importing products to your country.

There’s a fairly long list of things that you’ll need to acquire before you can bring products out of China and into your preferred country for sale. Documents required for Chinese export include the following:

  • Commercial Invoice

  • Packing List

  • Bill of Lading (B/L)

  • Airway Bill (AWB)

  • Certificate of Origin (COO)

  • Export License

  • Customs Declaration Form

  • Proforma Invoice

  • Quality Control and Inspection Certificates

When it comes to importing things into other countries, you’ll require a whole host of other paperwork. To bring things into the US, for example, you may require the following:

  • Importer of Record (IOR) Number

  • EIN or SSN

  • Customs Bond

  • Commercial Invoice

  • Packing List

  • Bill of Lading (B/L) or Airway Bill (AWB)

  • Entry Manifest

  • Harmonized System (HS) Code

  • Importer Security Filing (ISF)

  • Entry Summary (Customs Entry)

  • Duty and Tax Payment

  • Country of Origin Marking

  • Intellectual Property Protection (if applicable)

Depending on the country of import, this list may become shorter or longer. In some countries, you may require additional guarantees, while others may require proof that the products are free of potentially damaging pests. All in all, the import and export process is a complex and demanding part of the manufacturing process. 

But you don’t have to go at it alone|

If you have little to no experience with this kind of process, you may want to let your manufacturing partner handle it for you. MorphoMFG, the company I founded here in Guangzhou some 10 years ago, is a contract manufacturer that also handles shipping & all related logistics and requirements for our clients. 

Read more about our import and export services.

What to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Chinese Shoe Manufacturer

Let’s start with the basics. 

Manufacturing capacity

There are many excellent Chinese manufacturers out there. Some are large, with the capability to produce thousands upon thousands of shoes in a week. Others are smaller family-owned businesses that can only produce up to a few hundred units every week. 

The problem with this is that some large factories will not produce less than a certain amount. On the other hand, smaller factories may not offer the scalability required if your product takes off.

If you’re after a high-end product, then the risks are that much higher. You don’t want to waste tens of thousands in China on “testing” a factory. Especially in such a competitive industry.

Contract manufacturers are a great option here as well. The simple truth is that we’ve a much better chance of finding the right combination of factories and suppliers for your product. Read about our process

Product Range

The next thing you need to consider when choosing a China shoe manufacturer is what kind of capabilities the factory has. In terms of products, not every manufacturer has the ability to deal with every type of material. 

So, if you wish to manufacture shoes made of leather, you need to ensure that you don’t use a factory specializing in plastic products. On the other hand, a factory working with latex or rubber may be well equipped to work with plastic as well.

That was a simplified version of the argument. The intricate details that can make or break a prototype are far easier to neglect and overlook when setting up a partnership with a factory. Not to mention that many will be eager to say almost anything just to get you signed up. 

Either way, it’s up to you (or your contract manufacturer) to determine whether or not a specific factory can produce the products that you want from the desired material.

Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ)

As mentioned earlier, production capacity is an essential part of choosing a qualified manufacturer among all the Chinese shoe manufacturers. However, equally important is the minimum order quantity for any specific factory. If you want to do a trial run of a couple of hundred pairs of shoes, you can’t choose a factory with a minimum order quantity of at least 1,000.

Now you can see how things can get complicated fast. First it’s finding the right type of factory, one that deals with the right type of materials, and now we’re adding one additional layer: minimum order quantities requirements. 

By the time you research everything that goes into the process, you’ll have a list of a few dozen things that a single factory has to adhere to in order to qualify for custom, high-end product manufacturing. 

Trying to find answers to these kinds of questions and the accompanying frustration can lead to wrong choices, wasted time, and wasted money. We see it all the time.  

IP Protection Agreements

Another significant factor whenever choosing a Chinese shoe manufacturer is whether or not they offer protection for your intellectual property rights. In some cases, unethical manufacturers may copy your design and use it to make cheaper knock-off versions that they can sell to other clients for less cost.

That said, there is no real way to protect your IP. If they think your product idea has merit, you will be copied and you will see a knock-off on the market. 

The only difference is making sure you extend the amount of time between your launch and their launch. If this time frame is long enough, you can establish your brand/product as original. 

One fantastic solution to the IP protection problem, and one that we implement here at MorphoMFG, is to have different manufacturers produce different parts of the product and then we assemble the product in-house. This way, no one has access to the full design protecting your intellectual property and copyright.

Red flag: If a manufacturer, factory, supplier, agent, no matter who you talk to - if they promise your IP will be safe with them and there will be no copycats - they are smooth-talking you into singing with them. 

Pricing and Budget

Here’s a sad fact: One-third of MorphoMFG clients come to us after they’ve already wasted $50k on average in China by going to manufacturers they thought looked good.

Hidden costs, hidden agendas, bad actors, honey pots, and “Yes men” are absolutely present in China, and you need to be careful. 

The key lies in knowing how to tell the difference between the manufacturer that isn’t the cheapest, but is still a lot cheaper than a Western-based manufacturer would be, and that they have real-world reasons for whatever their price point is. This is a long story and one for another article. 

The standard rule of thumb applies here: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If they are saying “Yes” to everything… Well, you get the point.

A fact for perspective: We send away over 60% of all leads we get. All of these people that want to give us their money are simply not a fit for us. This is what a healthy business with a long-term plan looks like.

Experience and Reputation

Of course, when you’re producing any kind of product, you want to choose a manufacturer that is capable of giving the very best. That means looking for a factory with a vast field of experience.

While new manufacturers are not necessarily bad, they may not have the experience required to efficiently produce products that you have in mind. It’s best to look for a factory that has been in business for at least 5 to 10 years so that you know they are capable of producing exactly what you require.

Or… You know… Just ask for their portfolio, specifically ask your potential manufacturer about similar products they’ve made and shipped already. Morpho has produced thousands of products and shipped millions of units overseas. Talk to our business development team and ask them about our experience in making what you want to make. 

Alternatively, just take a look at our reviews page

Quality Control

Quality control is an essential part of almost any industry. This is potentially even more true for the clothing and footwear industry, where people live in close contact with the products they buy. 

When trying to choose one company from among the Chinese shoe manufacturers, it’s essential to pick a factory and manufacturer that has a reputation for consistent and competent quality control services.

If you like a specific manufacturer, but they don’t have in-house quality control beyond a very basic level, you can try to sign an agreement with them that they’ll allow you to make use of an external quality control team. 

After all, the main concern is providing a high-quality product to the end user.

Red flag: If a company treats QC as frosting on a cake instead of sprinkling a bit into every part of the process… Well, then they are not really QCing anything, they just have a glorified notification system that doesn’t stop you from wasting time or money. 

After-Sales Support

Here’s another thing to add to your “factory must have” list. 

Being a fantastic manufacturer of shoes and other products is one thing. Being an understanding and cooperative business partner is another. Whenever you’re looking for a Chinese shoe manufacturer, you need to find a partner that has a good policy regarding after-sales support.

A manufacturer may produce fantastic, high-quality products, offer an excellent pricing plan, and have a stellar reputation, but if they don’t offer support after the fact, it can leave you in a pinch.

Sometimes, even with good quality control, flaws and irregularities slip through. In these cases, you need to be able to contact the manufacturer and rely on an existing agreement about how they will assist you after you have already purchased the products.

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you might know who Logan is, the creator of the RokBlok. Morpho had a call with him that’s a perfect example of after-sales support. 

Listen to the call here

Final Thoughts

If you end up going to the right (contract) manufacturer in China for shoe manufacturers, you won’t be disappointed. The country has a range of benefits and advantages to recommend it to any aspiring producers of footwear.

However, there are challenges to overcome, like the potential for communication barriers and even the intense legal requirements of import and export. That said, if you manage to overcome the challenges, you might just enjoy a pleasant, profitable product manufacturing experience. 

In many cases, it’s better to rely on a manufacturing partner than to try and do everything required for Chinese manufacturing by yourself.

Find Your Perfect China Shoe Manufacturer With MorphoMFG

If you want to start producing shoes with a Chinese manufacturer, but you’re not sure that you want to go through the time and effort required to find one, we have a solution for you. 

Here at MorphoMFG, we specialize in bringing dreams to life. Here’s how:

  • Our in-house product designers ask questions and then put all of their combined experience to brainstorm and present ideas to you.

  • Once your design is prepared and you’re ready to move on to the testing phase, we use our vetted network of long-standing, capable factories for prototyping needs.

  • As soon as your prototype is ready and you’re sure about your product design, our sourcing services, in-house engineers, manufacturing services, and even import and export services handle everything else.

  • We’ve a rigorous quality control process, we use the Component Control Method to give you a head start in the market, we assemble in-house, and we handle shipping & logistics too.

  • We also have a wealth of experience working in this field, allowing us to cut through the red tape quickly and efficiently so that we can bring your dream to fruition with as little stress as possible.

In short, Morpho MFG has the capabilities needed to help you turn your manufacturing dreams into a reality. To scale your brand long-term. We partner with Western clients that are after custom, high-end manufacturing.

Schedule a free discovery call today and let’s see if we're the right fit. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Why should I consider manufacturing shoes in China?

Answer: There are many reasons to look at China for shoes and their manufacturers. Just a few of these things include the fact that China has an established footwear industry, meaning that Chinese manufacturers are already well-versed in the requirements for making shoes. Another reason is that they have excellent supply chain effectiveness, which in turn leads to fantastic cost-effectiveness.

Other reasons that may lure prospective developers to use Chinese manufacturers include the efficient time to market and the economies of scale provided by a country with as much diversity and manufacturing capabilities as China has.

Question: How do I find a reliable shoe manufacturer in China?

Answer: The best way to find a reliable shoe manufacturer in China is to make use of the services of a contract manufacturer like MorphoMFG. We have a whole network of manufacturers to whom we are connected. Since we know the strengths and weaknesses of each of these manufacturers, we can help put you in touch with a proven manufacturer that can deliver exactly what you need. Note that we only partner with clients who are after high-end manufacturing. 

Question: What types of shoes can be manufactured in China?

Answer: China shoe manufacturers are capable of producing a wide range of different footwear. From leather to plastic, sportswear, and sandals to high heels, rest assured that there’s a Chinese manufacturer that can meet your unique product design specifications.

Question: What is the typical production lead time for shoe manufacturing in China?

Answer: The production lead time for China shoes from manufacturers varies significantly based on a whole array of different factors. Some of these factors include the following:

  • Order size

  • Design complexity

  • The manufacturer’s production capacity

  • Shipping times between your country and China

Question: How do I manage quality control during production?

Answer: The key to managing quality control is to clearly state your quality expectations. The other key is to implement a structure that will help you ensure your expectations are met.

One way to do this is through rigorous agreements with the manufacturers. Another way to do this is to hire an independent quality control team that can oversee the manufacturing process.  

If you use a manufacturing partner like Morpho, the company will implement its own quality control measures, allowing you to relax while they take care of the fine print.

Question: How can I communicate effectively with Chinese manufacturers, considering the language barrier?

Answer: Here at MorphoMFG, we specialize in connecting aspiring business owners to successful and trustworthy manufacturers. Though many Chinese shoe manufacturers may have English-speaking staff members, communication challenges may still arise.

We’ll be only too happy to act as a go-between to ensure that both the manufacturer and you, the client, get exactly what you need. If you’re going it alone, then the best way to ensure fluent communication is to use clear, concise, and simple language. You may also want to use visual aids if the language barrier is exceptionally high.

About the author

Josh Fairbairn

CEO of MorphoMFG, fluent in Mandarin, Blogger, and Youtuber. Josh loves interesting materials and the craftsmanship that goes into creating innovative products - watches, tech, games, whisky, leather, wood, blockchain & electronics. Josh and his team in Guangzhou, China are striving to create (& consume) the world’s highest quality products. Partnering with entrepreneurs globally to help solve the world's problems - whether small or large.

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