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It takes 19 hours from Kozhikode, a tier-3 town in South India, to reach Dongguan in China, the world’s largest footwear manufacturing center by volume. Other than a once-robust ancient trade link and its associated academic research, Kozhikode hardly had any connection to China – until recently. A group of footwear manufacturers in Kozhikode have found an increase in export enquiries, thanks to a price rise in Chinese footwear.

Footwear display in Kerala, India
Footwear display at Nexo, a shop in Kozhikode in Kerala, India.

“We are getting more enquiries these days, particularly from the Middle East. And I understand that there is an increase in the price of China-made footwear,” says Abdul Samad, owner of DSign Footcare.

Mr. Samad’s company is one of the footwear manufacturers in Kozhikode, which is slowly becoming the non-leather footwear hub of India. With nearly 200 manufacturing units and roughly 500 ancillary units within a radius of 30 to 40 km, what used to be an ancient seaside trading city is now churning out close to a third of India’s non-leather footwear output.

From 2010 to 2014, the annual growth of footwear manufacturing in Kozhikode rose to 50 percent, says V Noushad, vice president of the Confederation of Indian Footwear Industry (CIFC) and managing director of VKC, a top-tier footwear brand in the state.

Because of this progress, manufacturers like VKC have had talks about the global market, international designs and Italian and Taiwanese machinery. Some – who have active trade links in the Middle East – have also started exporting to Malaysia, Singapore and even African countries.

Only few manufacturers with a valid export license and a steady stream of orders, however, are able to export to other countries. Having a neighboring country as a top competitor is always a constant challenge to manufacturers, considering China makes nearly $40 billion off exports, while India only makes $2 billion.

Despite this, Kozhikode remains to be a promising export zone. It has contributed 30 percent to the $2-billion export – not to mention, there has also been an outpour of export enquiries and top footwear brands looking for new manufacturing centers. The $16-million footwear park project of the Kerala Infrastructure Development Corporation is also expected to boost the town’s growth and bring in jobs to 2,000 to 3,500 people.

About the author – Chandu Gopalakrishnan

Not just a metal mirror - Chandu - HF

Chandu Gopalakrishnan is a Hinrich Foundation Global Trade Scholar from India.

He graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University with the master’s program in Business and Financial Journalism as the Hinrich Foundation’s candidate last academic year.

Now he is an export consultant under Export Trade Assistance program in India. He has been a journalist with years of experience in financial journalism, with interest in news production and media.