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Quality control norms for footwear: One

Aug 30, 2023

In Depth

Friday August 04, 2023,

7 min Read

While the footwear industry has largely welcomed the government’s move to make quality standards mandatory for footwear manufacturers and importers, it is also concerned about the implementation of these standards and their generalised outlook.

The Quality Control Orders—issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade—apply uniformly to all products in a category and don’t take into account the various price points at which different manufacturers operate, say industry players.

They fear that manufacturers operating at lower price points would get adversely impacted by these blanket rules and call for a more scientific and rational approach that considers factors such as consumer needs, price, and affordability.

The decision to enforce quality norms for footwear aims to establish standards in the sector that's largely unorganised, reduce reliance on imports, and curb sub-standard imports from China.

The Quality Control Orders are set to bring 24 categories of footwear—including rubber gum boots, sports shoes, moulded plastic footwear, and Hawaii chappals—under the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification, thus making BIS licence and ISI mark mandatory to sell, or import these products.

The implementation date for these orders is January 1, 2024 for small-scale industries and July 1, 2024 for micro-scale industries.

The standards propose to evaluate various attributes of footwear, such as durability, flexibility, and bond strength. They also define and dictate the minimum thickness of the sole and the type of raw material (such as leather, PVC, and rubber) permissible for footwear production.

The published BIS standard for sports footwear (general purpose shoes used for exercising, walking and light sports) is the same for both low-cost injection mould PVC shoes and high-end sports shoes. Similarly, the same standards apply to both non-branded low-cost Hawaii chappals and branded ones that cost more.

Over 75% of the Indian footwear industry is in the unorganised sector.

This means footwear manufacturers operating at lower price points would get hit the most, says the footwear industry. It believes MSMEs will not be able to comply with BIS quality norms if the standards are not simplified and scientifically fixed.

These concerns were raised during a press conference in Kozhikode, where representatives from MSME Footwear Action Council, Confederation of Indian Footwear Industries, and Footwear Manufacturers Association of Kerala participated.

Representatives from the MSME sector are urging the government to grant exemptions to micro and small enterprises from the BIS regulations.

Rubber footwear manufacturers from Jalandhar also held a protest recently seeking exemption from BIS standards. They argued that affordable products, priced between Rs 30 and Rs 120 cater to the needs of the less privileged, who might not be able to afford footwear otherwise.

They emphasised that their low-cost offerings serve a different segment of the population and should not be compared with higher-priced products of larger enterprises, as per a report in The Tribune.

The general notion is that using substandard materials results in low-quality products, and this is the issue the government is trying to address through the BIS standards.

Ensuring quality standards will deter sellers from copying designs without matching quality and selling them online at lower prices, says Tabby Bhatia, Founder of Brune & Bareskin, a shoe brand from Voganow Fashion.

While all standards cannot apply to all types of shoes, there should be a minimum standard that all shoes must meet, Bhatia insists.

Compliance to BIS standards can hike the manufacturing cost and eventually the price of the finished product for small players, says Paramvir Singh, CEO of Jalandhar-based Brightway Rubber Industries.

“The way the standards are defined is not correct. We cater to higher-priced products, so we won’t be affected. But for those who use low-quality materials to make lower-priced products, the cost and product price can double,” says Singh.

Bhatia too believes manufacturers of low-priced products will face challenges.

While applying standards is beneficial to brands operating in the organised sector, low-cost players will be affected, he says. “They have to source raw materials that meet the new standards, which might lead to changes in traditional suppliers and manufacturing processes.”

However, Pradeep Sharma, COO of Abros Sports International, doesn’t think meeting quality standards will increase costs significantly.

“Currently, many products made in India lack adherence to any standards. If manufacturers have to change raw materials to meet the standards, the cost might rise slightly,” he says, adding that Abros makes sports shoes starting from Rs 699 and it is possible for others too to keep prices competitive and offer quality at the same time.

“The footwear industry needs to graduate to the next standard, and quality standard has to be maintained to reduce imports and for customers to be benefitted,” says Anupam Bansal, Director (Retail), Liberty Shoes.

“If a shoe is not suitable for one’s ankle and not appropriate for running, it should not be sold as a running shoe. Perhaps it should be labelled as a regular shoe instead,” he adds.

With quality control comes the need for testing and evaluating products—this includes testing for abrasion, adhesion, stretch, and GSM.

Bhatia of Brune & Bareskin says each testing process costs Rs 45,000, and for those operating at lower price points, this could be challenging.

To address this, the government has announced an 80% discount on testing cost for micro units and startups with a turnover of Rs 5 crore or less.

“Since the government is giving an 80% discount on testing to micro units, it should not be a direct hit on this sector,” says Mamta Roy, Founder of women’s fashion accessories brand Odette.

New testing facilities have been established at two BIS labs, two labs of the Footwear Design and Development Institute, and at the Central Leather Research Institute. Additionally, 11 private labs have been recognised for testing footwear.

Harikat Singh, Managing Director of Aero Club, the parent company of Woodland, points out that there are not enough testing labs in the industry, but Bansal of Liberty believes this could improve over time.

Another potential issue is meeting clients’ demands while following BIS standards.

Singh of Brightway Rubber Industries explains an issue he may have to grapple with in future, “BIS has specified sole thickness for some footwear categories, and if clients (footwear brands) demand lighter soles, then we may have to work on the design to somehow manage both BIS norms and the client requirement.”

Getting certification based on the new standards could be a time-consuming process, going by what some players are facing. The entire process and documentation could take around two months.

Harikat Singh sheds light on the complexity of managing existing inventory and merchandise at warehouses, factories, and stores—especially considering the sheer variety of shoes, in different colours and sizes.

“Obtaining certification for everything can be time-consuming,” he says and suggests that the implementation be done gradually, in phases.

The government has suggested recalling old inventory from retailers for ISI certification, but Pramod Sharma, CEO of Abros Sports International, thinks this is impractical. He argues that it’s difficult to retrieve products that have already been distributed to numerous retailers.

As of now, no directive or order has been issued by the government regarding this. However, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had emphasised the need for the industry to initiate this process when he announced the implementation of BIS norms in June this year.

Footwear manufacturers and sellers say BIS enforcement should not be done retrospectively. Instead, it should be applied only to products manufactured after the final implementation date of BIS. This will prevent significant product waste and losses in the industry, they say.

While the ultimate benefits of implementing quality norms will become apparent with time, the initial execution is expected to be challenging.

Edited by Swetha Kannan

quality control

footwear industry

indian msmes


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