President Reagan's rejection of curbs on shoe imports "is a victory for American consumers, who have the widest choice of footwear at the lowest prices available anywhere in the world," says Peter Mangione, president of the Footwear Retailers of America, which represents shoe store chains.
Parents shopping for back to school shoes this week put country of origin of shoes at the bottom of the list of priorities, far below fit and comfort and style, as well as workmanship and price.
"I never look at where the shoes are made," says Rosie McLaren, a public health nutritionist who prefers foreign-made shoes for her son Damion, 3, and for herself. "Foreign-made shoes are often better styled and hold up better. American-made shoes just don't last as long. They are not as pleasing, and have less pizazz."
Even those who are would prefer to buy American find it difficult when it comes to shoes. "In fact," says Judith Siegel of the USIA, "I try to buy American-made things whenever possible." But with two girls ages 9 and 5 and a boy, 15, the first consideration is shoes they like. "Preadolescent girls are firm about what they will wear and what they won't. I can buy American made saddle shoes for my 9-year-old and they will just sit in the closet."
Genevieve Bensinger, 12, a student at Gordon Pyle Junior High, looks at where shoes are made only after she has paid for them. And Gianni Picardi usually finds it out when she's bored in school. The fifth grader at the Churchill Road Elementary School colors the soles when her attention wavers in class. That's how she found out her Tretorns were American-made.
According to George Langstaff, president of the Footwear Industries of America, which represents domestic footwear manufacturers and suppliers, 80 percent of all nonrubber footwear purchased in the United States is now imported. Since 1968, footwear production has dropped from 640 million pairs to fewer than 300 million pairs annually. More than 100 American shoe factories closed down last year.
While the American shoe industry is the most technologically advanced, quality shoes that require considerable hand work are not being made here. "We don't have the craftsmen to make them," say Mangione. Most major American shoe companies now have their shoes made abroad, he said.
A top executive at a major department store here says 75 percent of the shoes in the store are imports. "We look at the product first, then where it is made secondly. Our concern is only to get the best product made.