The European footwear industry is made up of diverse products and industrial processes. The European Commission works to promote the innovation and competitiveness of firms in the field and to combat counterfeiting, while protecting consumer health and the environment.
The footwear sector is a diverse industry covering a wide variety of materials, including textile, plastics, rubber, and leather, and products from different types of men’s, women’s, and children’s footwear to more specialised products like snowboard boots and protective footwear. In 2019, the footwear sector generated €26.4 billion in turnover, directly employing 24 000 people from 18 800 enterprises (Eurostat, 2023). This range of end products reflects the many industrial processes, enterprises, and market structures within the sector.
Many European companies have moved to high-quality and high-added value segments and niche markets. These include high-end footwear, children’s shoes, footwear for specific applications (protective, golf, skiing boots), and bespoke footwear. From 2009 to 2019, export to non-European countries increased by 51% in quantity and by 147% in value, highlighting the high potential of EU footwear outside Europe (The World Footwear Yearbook, 2022).
EU legislation on footwear
The European Union has directed EU countries to align laws relating to the labelling of materials in footwear, protecting consumer interests, and reducing the risk of fraud for consumers and industry. EU legislation on chemicals and personal protective equipment may also affect footwear.
Directive on labelling of materials used in footwear
In 1994, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union issued an important directive for the internal market for footwear. This Directive introduced a common labelling system for the main components of footwear sold in the EU.
It harmonised the diverse laws and regulations that had previously existed in EU countries relating to the labelling of materials. These diverse laws and regulations were creating barriers to trade.
Directive 94/11/EC specifies that labelling must give consumers information on the composition of the three main parts of footwear
- the upper
- the lining and sock
- the outer sole
The composition can be given using pictograms or written indications for specific materials
- coated leather
- other materials
Only materials covering at least 80% of the surface area or 80% of the volume of the outer sole need to be labelled. If no single material accounts for at least 80%, information should be given on the two main materials used.
This legislation protects consumer interests by reducing the risk of fraud for both consumers and industry.
For more information, see Directive 94/11/EC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to labelling of the materials used in the main components of footwear for sale to the consumer
Proposed EU rules on footwear waste
See the proposal for a targeted revision of the Waste Framework Directive.
Other legislation on footwear
- The Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) will impose obligations on companies in the sector who use chemicals in their production processes.
- A European Ecolabel was established for footwear in 1999. It applies to all categories of footwear, including sports, occupational, children's, men's, and women's; and specialist footwear for cold, casual use, fashion, and indoors.
- Footwear designed to be worn by individuals for protection against one or more health and safety hazards is covered by the Regulation on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (EU) 2016/42
European standards on footwear
Study on the European footwear industry
In response to the challenges faced by the European footwear industry, the Commission ordered an in-depth assessment of the situation and prospects for future development. This study includes reports on restructuring, research and innovation, education and training, as well as an analysis of the competitive position of the sector and policy recommendations.