Is Sneaker Production Making a Return Run to the US?

Is Sneaker Production Making a Return Run to the US?

Crafting the latest trends in global footwear used to be the pride of U.S. shoe industry workers, but most of those jobs left long ago for Asia. Now, the American sneaker factory could be coming back – with robots doing most of the work.

Reebok said Monday it plans to open a new high-tech laboratory in Rhode Island to make sneakers by pouring liquid plastic.

“Our idea was, if the U.S. is where the innovation is, let’s make the product that’s the most innovative here as opposed to overseas,” said Bill McInnis, who holds the job of “head of future” for the sportswear company, based in Canton, Massachusetts.

Cheaper labor costs drove athletic shoe production to Asia in the 1970s, but it’s beginning to regain a foothold in the United States. The reasons include rising production costs as China’s middle class grows; technological innovations helping to automate a historically labor-intensive craft; and a desire to get sneakers made closer to where they’re bought.

“Brands want to move closer to the U.S. to get products to market faster,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with The NPD Group. “Today when you make a shoe in Asia, it spends months on an ocean freighter.”

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