Footwear Firms Rethink Brand Positioning Given The EU’s Work Boot Safety Standards

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Given the increasingly global economy, many work boot manufacturers around the world look beyond their country's borders in an effort to expand distribution. However, manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic face difficulties and challenges in marketing their product across the Pond.

European Brands and American Work  Boots Brands 

European brands face different legislation and issues compared to their American counterparts. As a result, these firms see little competition from U.S. safety brands such Timberland, Caterpillar and Red Wing. U.S. companies have enjoyed success as fashion brands in Europe but have not fared well in the industrial arena due to the European Union's stringent safety standards. To that end, European companies have kept a strong foothold in their market.

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Safety Standards of Work Boot Brands

The European Union's requirements for safety footwear indirectly limit imports from countries with lower labor costs. The C.E. mark, or official EU seal that appears on everything from light bulbs to safety boots, ensuring that the products comply with EU directives and safety standards, was devised to replace many of the different national standards throughout Europe. Safety footwear is not saleable within the EU without the stamp.

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With very different requirements, U.S. and Canadian safety standards are followed throughout North America.

"The standards and requirements of the C.E. mark is much more stringent," noted Bill Cohen, Dr. Martens' industrial sales manager for the U.S.

However this gulf in standards could change as the unification of international standards becomes a possibility, according to Jean Francois Denorus of the French Footwear Federation. He said the International Standard Organization, a non-governmental organization of national-standard bodies from 140 countries, including EU countries, is discussing imposing similar or identical standards that would match the C.E. mark.

Because of higher standards for safety, particularly in the strength of the reinforced toe, there is a high demand for EU-manufactured boots in the U.S. Jalette-TENPAC, sells 4.2 million shoes worldwide per year including North and South America, while Dr. Martens, which first launched as a fashion brand in the U.S., now has a separate safety division. "We started selling safety footwear in the U.S. five and a half years ago [see story on page 18] and now [safety footwear] accounts for 12 percent to 13 percent of our U.S. business," said Cohen.

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Competition Between Two Brands

American companies trying to break into the safety market in Europe have faced their own set of hurdles.

Even though some American safety boot firms such as The Timberland Co. and Caterpillar have entered the European arena, their market share remains small due to the cost associated with bringing their product offerings up to code.

Instead, firms have been more successful repositioning their product as a fashion brand. U.S. manufacturers now pay close attention to styling, adapting their product to appeal to different tastes overseas. With more style-driven product entering the European market, safety brands across the Atlantic must compete in termsof style.

"Our designers used to be desk-based, now they visit the major [fashion] trade shows like GDS for style inspiration," said Christienne Lamon, European sales executive for British-based safety footwear firm Totectors.

Thomes Buller

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