Footwear Brands – The China Report Card

Footwear Brands – The China Report Card

Are any Shoes or Sneakers NOT made in China these days?

This first “report card” of the top clothing brands will focus on footwear brands.

What’s especially galling about footwear brands is that so many of them are associated with the countries they originated in. Everyone knows that Nike is an American brand, Adidas is a German brand, Reebok is British, UGG is Australian.

But you’d be wrong in every case. Most of these companies have very few meaningful ties with their original countries anymore. Nike and Adidas shoes are mainly produced in China or Vietnam.

Reebok ceased being a British company when it was acquired by Reebok; it recently was acquired by Authentic Brands Group, which has plans to expand to China, and with its ownership of iconic brands like Aeropostale, Forever 21, Brooks Brothers, Barneys, Izod, Juicy Couture, Eddie Bauer, Nine West and many more, it would be a one-stop shop if CCP-backed entities wanted to take it over once it goes public.

And the UGG brand was never Australian. It was an American company that co-opted the design of Australian boots, trademarked a common Australian phrase, and outsourced production of its “Australian” shoes to China while locking authentic Australians out of the lucrative US market.

As the CCP becomes increasingly nationalistic, expect it to incentivize its local manufacturers to use all the secrets they learned from Nike and Adidas to build up China-based brand Anta. Anta, incidentally, already owns brands like Wilson Sporting Goods and Louisville Slugger. (That’s right, a China-based company doesn’t just make, but they own the production of all the basketballs and all the baseball bats used in professional sports. Chilling, isn’t it?)

In short, it’s a mess. This NPR article does a good job of explaining why shoe manufacturing is almost certainly never going to return to the United States. That said, the very least we can do as consumers is vote with our wallets to make sure shoe companies don’t put all their eggs into the China basket.

How this list was made

As I described in the introduction to these report cards, my approach here is to list out the top footwear brands by popularity and then to give them a “letter grade” based on how much of their supply chain they allow China to monopolize AND how shameless they are in kowtowing to the China Communist Party.

To summarize, I’m going to look at the most popular clothing and footwear brands, as measured by YouGov polls and I’m going to “grade” them based on how much they are tied to China.

Sadly, there isn’t one company that hasn’t moved at least some of its production to China. But many companies have started to diversify their supply chain, either because they recognize the foolishness of allowing China to monopolize their production, or (more likely) simply because China is becoming too expensive. This means that some shoes (even within the same model number) might be made in China OR in another country like Vietnam. In these cases, your best approach to avoiding China products is to go to a physical store and read the label yourself.

Best Clothing Brands Not Made in China โ€“ Quick Ranking

1. Adidas ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช – C+

Adidas and Nike have a dilemma on their hands. They shut down their company-owned stores back in the 2010s in order to focus on using subcontractors. They taught these subcontractors all their manufacturing techniques and secrets. Around 2018, they realized they were putting too many eggs into one basket and started moving to other countries, but the damage had been done. Counterfeiters are making products that are indistinguishable from the real thing.

The CCP is starting to throw its weight around–it organized a boycott of Western brands in March 2021 because these brands hurt the CCPs feelings after they dared to question labor practices in Xinjian.

To Adidas’ credit, they were one of the first brands to speak against Uyghur forced detention and that stood behind the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which was one of the trigger points that led to China unleashing its wrath both through official channels and their vast army of trolls on social media. There was a coordinated effort to stir up social media mobs in China to boycott brands like H&M, Nike, Adidas, and Puma. Make no mistake–the CCP’s first priority is to terrorize the industry, making examples of these companies to make sure that smaller brands don’t fall out of line.

Again to Adidas’ credit, they stood their ground, unlike the weasels at Nike that paid lip service to their progressive customers, only to throw them under the bus with a groveling apology to China.

Adidas has been working to relocate manufacturing from China to Vietnam, perhaps because it realizes it has too much tied up in China, and perhaps due to the tariffs that Presidents Trump and Biden put in place. I do like how Adidas is very transparent about which factories in which countries it uses in its supply chain. Right now about 27% of their factories are located in China, but that’s much lower than it used to be. We’ll see if that continues a downward trend.

So right now, your chances are still high of getting a made-in-China Adidas product, but you can do your part by being selective about how you buy future Adidas products. Check the label. The best we can do now is to try to starve any remaining manufacturing in China. I hope in a year I can upgrade them from a C+ to an B or even an A, but time will tell.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Go to a physical store and check the label. If you go to Amazon, be sure to double-check the Customer Questions and Answers and Customer Reviews for the keyword “China”, and be sure to avoid third party sellers. Better yet, go for the New Balance 990, 991, 992, or 993 which are made in the US and the UK.

2. Nike ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – F

Nike is, of course, the poster child for an apparel company that has completely sold out to China.

In a rare demonstration that it maybe had a conscience, in March 2021 Nike issued a statement expressing concern over reports of forced labor of Ughur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. But as soon as the CCP mobilized boycotts against them, NIke quickly gave a groveling apology to China, with CEO John Donahoe proclaiming “Nike is a brand that is of China and for China”.

You might recall a few years ago when LeBron James similarly kowtowed to China when Daryl Morey retweeted a Tweet supporting freedom in Hong Kong.

Ironically, as of 2021, Nike outsources more of its manufacturing to Vietnam (22.5%) than to China (21.9%), a trend that will hopefully continue as tariffs have their effect. But of course, Nike and its celebrity spokespeople are interested in the billions of people who (supposedly) will want to buy their products in China, and so they will clearly fold like a cheap tent to the CCP’s bullying rather than risk “offending” the CCP. And so they’ll stay silent about things like fair labor practices, the environment, and suppression of freedom. Is that really the kind of company that Americans want representing America around the world and to our children?

Hints for avoiding made in China: As with Adidas, by far the best thing to do is to go to a Nike store or outlet store and read the box. Buying online from Amazon can be risky, as Nike does not use Amazon as a first-party seller, so all the Nike listings on Amazon are from third-party sellers, many of whom may be counterfeiters. Better yet, go for the New Balance 990, 991, 992, or 993 which are made in the US and the UK.

3. Converse ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – F

Converse sneakers are of course an iconic American product. In 1960, 80% of Americans with sneakers had Converse, and they ran a huge plan out of Lumberton, NC. And until 2001, all of their shoes were made in the USA. Sadly, they declared bankruptcy in 2001, at which point their brand was purchased by Nike and all of their US-based plants were shut down.

In my research on the Internet, I tried to find out where Converse sneakers are made. Converse’s own Web site is completely devoid of any information about where their products are sourced and made.

When I contacted their customer service line, here’s what they said:

I guess I should give them points for honesty, but sadly, this means that even iconic designs like the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe that’s been around since 1920 is made in China and this “all American” company feels no pressure at all to bring manufacturing back to the US nor move the “majority” of its manufacturing from China.

Hints for avoiding made in China: There doesn’t seem to be any reliable way to guarantee which county a particular Converse sneaker comes from when you shop online. From this chat it seems your chances aren’t good of finding a non-China one in a store. But you can try.

If you happen to be in Japan, you’re in luck–Converse Japan (which is not affiliated with the main Converse brand owned by Nike, but does produce the same designs), does clearly specify the country of origin on its Web site. Most of their product is made in Indonesia.

In the meantime, USA-made Chucks from prior to 2001 are starting to become collector’s items. You can purchase them from specialized sites like this one, or from eBay.

4. Skechers ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – D

Skechers is an American footwear brand that was founded in 1992 and is headquartered in Manhattan Beach, California.

When I contacted Skechers and asked them about their supply chain, they were, shall we say, a bit “skechy”.

Specifically, I asked them very specifically what percentage of their products were made in China or Vietnam, and how I could tell from online listings where they came from. Here was their canned response:

So clearly they’re hiding behind the “we have a very diversified supply chain and choose only the highest quality manufacturers around the world to make our products that are designed in the good old USA” load of BS.

I took a random sample of 5 of their highest rated and most popular products on Amazon. 5 out of 5 came from China. Until I see a little more transparency here, they’re going to get a “D”.

Hints for avoiding made in China: If you’re feeling lucky, visit a brick-and-mortar store to look at the box. Bear in mind that even variations of size and color in the same model may be made in China and supporting the Chinese Communist regime.

5. Reebok ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง, then ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช, then ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – B

Reebok has been owned by Adidas since 2006, but they have since sold the brand to Authentic Brands Group. Here was their response when I asked where their sneakers are made.

Top rated Reebok sneaker on Amazon, made in Vietnam

I did a spot check on their official Amazon store, and sure enough, best sellers like their Men’s CL Leather CTE Fashion Sneaker, their Men’s Classic Harman Run Sneaker, their Women’s Classic Leather Sneaker and their Women’s Clssic Renaissance Shoes were all made in Vietnam. I would have preferred for them to have been more upfront about Country of Origin rather than making me jump through hoops to find it. But I’m satisfied that they’re telling the truth.

Hints for avoiding made in China: You probably have a better-than-average chance of finding a product not made in China from shopping online, but of course you’ll want to shop at a real store to confirm.

6. Crocs ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – C

Crocs is another American company, based in Broomfield, Colorado. It started in 2001 as a boating shoe, but quickly gained popularity as a casual and comfortable blog. They originally owned their own plants, but as with most other footwear manufacturers they closed their last plants (in Mexico and Italy) in 2018 and went to a 100% outsourced model. And like other footwear makers, they made the foolish decision to go into China, which essentially guaranteed that their products would be easily counterfeited.

Here is news I love to see. As a result of trade tariffs against China in 2019, Crocs committed to diversifying its supply chain to lessen its reliance on China for products users can buy in the USA. As of 2019, about 30% of its products were made in China, but it committed to bringing it down to 10% by 2020. I reached out to Crocs to see if they met their goal, and I’ll let you know what they come back with.

From my casual observation, it looks like they may be making a dent. When I look at their most popular product on Amazon, the Unisex Classic Clog, the country of origin information is missing from the product description (of course). But when I read the Customer Questions and Answers and Reviews, there are varying reports. It appears the depending on your size and color, you may get Crocs made in China, but also from Mexico, Thailand, Nicaragua, or Vietnam.

That’s a start. But the only way for consumers to make a difference is if you actively reject anything made in China and buy more of the ones made in other countries. Remember that quality is not necessarily the issue here, but how much of your purchase goes to fund an oppressive government. Granted, the governments of Mexico, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Vietnam aren’t necessarily pure as the driven snow either, but the point here is to avoid putting too much power and money into feeding the biggest beast of all.

So clearly, their customer service people are being told to be very non-committal–when I pressed they doubled down claiming that the information I asked was impossible to get.

I was going to give them a “B” here, but it makes me nervous that they’ve clearly got their fingers to the wind, hoping that consumers forget about the CCP’s atrocities and treat China any other country. I’ll give them a “C” but it’ll be clearly up to you, the consumer, to force them to improve, as they’re not going to do it on their own.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Buying online is going to be hit-or-miss. Again, your best bet is to go to a brick and mortar store and check the label for yourself. Unlike the brands above, you should have no problem finding a store that stocks Crocs not made in China. If one store doesn’t have them, just go to the next one.

7. Dr. Scholl’s Shoes ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – F

Dr. Scholl’s is another an All-American brand, started by podiatrist William Mathias Scholl in 1906. Through the years it’s been owned by a number of different pharmaceutical companies, from Schering-Plough to Merck to Bayer. Most recently it’s been sold to a private equity group called Yellow Wood Partners, who established a new company called Scholl’s Wellness Company to run the brand.

It’s most famous for its insoles and foot care products, but it also sells a line of shoes. Unfortunately Dr. Scholl’s has not only outsourced most of its manufacturing to China, it boasts about being one of the “pioneers of footwear manufacturing in China” and tout how they were instrumental in making sure that China built up specialized skills and machinery so that the world’s manufacturers came to them (you can read quotes from one of their executives in this lovely piece of propaganda here–this piece is a perfect example of how companies like Dr. Scholl’s helped lead the way in whitewashing the CCP’s true record in environmental and labor practices by cherry picking contrived statistics. Shame on them.

This was pretty much corroborated them I reached out to them on Facebook.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Just avoid them.

8. PUMA ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช – B

Puma was founded in 1948 in Germany and continues to be headquartered there.

Puma is another company that is responding to tariffs from the US on China by shifting footwear and apparel manufacturing out of China and to countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. While their production was evenly split a few years ago between China and Vietnam, it looks like more of their products are made in Vietnam these days.

Puma sneaker on Amazon, made in Vietnam

I checked Amazon, and surely enough Puma’s two most popular models, their Tazen 6 Fade Cross-Trainers and their Roma Basic Sneaker both appear to be made in Vietnam, if the most recent reviews are accurate.

Hints for avoiding made in China: You can buy on Amazon or Walmart and be pretty safe to not get something made in China, but to be safe, you’ll want to search the reviews or Q&A from a product you like to see what others are reporting. Or, of course, visit a brick and mortar store to check the box for yourself.

9. New Balance ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – A

Finally, a brand that gets a solid “A”.

Now to be clear, like most other shoe companies New Balance does make most of its products out of China and Vietnam. But remember, this “report card” is not about whether a company does business in China at all; it’s about how the extent to which a company has gone “all in” to China manufacturing and the extent to which the company sells out its own principles and its own country to ingratiate itself to the China market (through the CCP). And appropriate to its name, New Balance maintains that balance–on the one hand in order to survive and compete it does need to outsource a certain amount of manufacturing, but on the other hand it continues to maintain a meaningful manufacturing base in its home country and it’s diversifying its supply chain. It doesn’t spend millions on getting celebrity endorsements; instead, it makes a really, really good shoe.

New Balance was established in 1906 in Boston. They continue to be headquartered there, and they’ve managed to keep production of certain lines out of one of their five facilities in Maine and Massachusetts. They’re the only major shoe brand to do so.

The irony is that these shoes are so well made that consumers in China make up a lot of the demand for them.

New Balance 990 made in the USA. The sneaker of choice of the author. https://amzn.to/3EDZn7W

There are only a few lines that New Balance makes in the USA, namely the 990, 992, and 993.

(1540s used to be made in the US, but production has moved to Vietnam as of April 2021. But it’s still not China).

For the last 20 years I’ve bought nothing but 990s, and I can personally attest to how long they last. I’ve gone through at least two pairs where I’d wear them every day.

I buy a new pair every few years, but even my old pairs going back many years are still in incredible shape–I’ve worn the soles down to nothing, but the stitching and leather are still in perfect shape and look brand new when I run them through a washing machine. If I could find a way to get them re-soled, I would (actually, TIL that I can!)

Until recently you were able to get these for under $100, but after the COVID lockdowns the price skyrocketed. When I went to the New Balance Outlet, I got a pair for about $180. The New Balance sales guy explained to me that the price went up because the lockdown severely impacted the facilities in New England (in other show of great patriotism they converted some of the factories to make face masks during the lockdown when PPE was difficult to find). But he implied that once they become fully operational again, the price should come back down. I decided to pay the $180 anyway.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Buy one of the models I listed above offline or online and you’ll be guaranteed get an authentic, solidly built made in the USA product. If you want other styles, check customer reviews online and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one made in Vietnam. And of course, the best approach is to go to a New Balance store and look at the box yourself.

10. Timberland ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – C

Timberland was another footwear company that was founded in Boston. They were founded in 1952 and today their headquarters continue to be in New Hampshire. Since 2011 they’ve been part of VF Corporation.

Over the years, it looks like Timberland tried to keep a few products made in the USA just like New Balance did, but all those products are gone now. In 2017 they had a USA-Made 8-inch boot that sold for $500, but that’s completely gone now. Up until recently they offered American Craft Moc-Toe Boots, but those also look completely sold out, as are their American Craft 8-inch Waterproof Boots or their American Craft Chukka Boots. There’s no indication if or when these will ever return.

Timberland is at least transparent about their supply chain–to a certain extent. They provide quarterly reports that list out every one of the factories they outsource to throughout the world, and they do appear to have a somewhat diversified supply chain. But China is clearly still their largest manufacturing supplier, and they don’t make it easy on their Web site to find the country of origin of any particular product.

When I spot check their product listings on Amazon, it looks like most of their most popular products are made in China, although some products look like they’re made in Vietnam or the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, without country of origin labeling on their own site or on Amazon’s, it’s practically impossible to tell where a particular shoe is made. You can search the Customer Question and Answer and Reviews, but the country of manufacture may vary even by size and color. Here’s a popular product where customers have reported over time getting the product from Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, China, and Indonesia. and they’re all right.

Hints for avoiding made in China: This is one where I’d make sure to visit a store in person and check the box.

11. Hush Puppies ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – D

Hush Puppies does a very good job of hiding their country of origin from customers–it’s nowhere on their Web site, and on very few Amazon product pages. When I contacted their chat agent to ask where their shoes were made, they said “most are either made in China or Vietnam” but they didn’t give me a percentage. Later in the chat she said “I actually forgot to mention we have quite a few styles made in India”

When I pressed, the woman on the line told me to tell her what product I was interested in, and she’d be able to look it up. So the information does exist. I asked her about the Women’s Hazel Pointe and she said it was made in India. Other popular styles like the Sienna Shootie and the Sienna Boot are made in India.

From time to time if you’re lucky you’ll be able to find a country of origin, like these popular women’s boots, also made in India.

I think Hush Puppies would probably get a C+ or even a B here if they just didn’t obfuscate their country of origin as much as they do. But right now it’s just too much of a hassle to figure out which models are made where.

Hints for avoiding made in China: If you see a style you like, chat with an agent on their Web site to ask where it’s made. Or visit a store in person.

12. Vans ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – C

Like Timberland, Vans is owned by VF Corporation. It was originally started in 1966 in Anaheim, California as a skateboarding brand, and continues to be headquartered in Costa Mesa. They were made out of several factories in California until the late 1990s, when all manufacturing operations moved to China and Vietnam.

In 2011 the son of the founder said in an interview with Vice that he hoped to bring manufacturing back to the United States. Ten years later that hasn’t happened. And unfortunately, there’s very little transparency of visibility into their supply chain.

I was pleased when I did a spot-check of the most popular styles on Amazon, that many of them were made in Vietnam. This includes Van’s Men’s Low-Top Sneakers and their Unisex Adult Authentic Core Classics. But other popular styles like Unisex Low-Top Trainers are being reported as made in China. And worse, by outsourcing to China, Van’s has all but guaranteed that its styles will be heavily counterfeited, so if you buy from any third party seller, there’s a decent chance you’ll be getting a knock-off.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Aside from asking and getting a sample of customer reports on Amazon product listings, your best bet is to visit a physical store and check the box for yourself.

13. UGG ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – F

Did you know that before UGG (all caps) became a brand name, the term “ugg” (lowercase) was used for years to describe the style of sheepskin boots that started in Australia? “ugg boots” were invented in Australia and worn by surfers in the 1960s, spreading to the United States and Great Britain in the 1970s and becoming a fashion trend in the late 1990s.

The company known as UGG was founded in the USA in 1978 by Australian surfers Brian Smith and Doug Jensen. They started out by selling Australian boots, but decided to create their company called UGG (all caps). Most of their sales were in California, but the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer gave them exposure around the world, and 2003, Oprah helped them really take off by including them as one of her “favorite things”.

In move that was either sleazy big corporate BS or smart business, depending on how you look at it, UGG sued to stop people from selling shoes using the term “ugg”. They won in the US, but they lost in Australia. This is why you see marketing in the US only for UGGs, but in Australia you can still find “uggs” (ugh).

I fall into the camp of seeing UGG’s legal nonsense as sleazy for one reason. UGG (all caps) boots are unfortunately pretty much all made in China these days.

But there are plenty of small businesses in Australia who make “ugg” boots using Australian workers and Australian sheep whom UGG has essentially blocked out of the world’s largest marketplace so that they and China are the only beneficiaries. The irony, of course, is that UGG is the one that co-opted the generic term “ugg”. Now that they’ve become the most popular creators of that style of footwear, they’re stopping others from using the term they stole.

I’m glad to see that some Australian companies are fighting back with ugg boots that are more authentic ugg boots than UGG boots. I believe the way that trademark law works, they’re allowed to maintain their own Web sites in Australia, and if you seek them out and find them in Australia, they can sell you products. But they just aren’t allowed to market to the US. But I can certainly share some Australian web sites with them (I’m not being paid for this, I’m just providing this as a service because it should be an insult to Australians everywhere that UGGs have the appearance of being Australian, but Australia is not benefitting at all from their national treasure.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Don’t buy UGG brand boots. Buy geniune ugg boots from one of these real Australian companies.

Burlee Australia – This was the only brand I could find selling on Amazon. The rest are Australian-based Web sites
Wild Wool Australia
Emu Australian
Koalabi
Ugg Since 1974
Ugg Boots Made in Australia
Ugg Australia
Original Ugg Boots

14. Red Wing Shoes ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – A+

I was pleasantly surprised to see that like New Balance, Red Wing continues to maintain some manufacturing in the USA. In their case, their entire line of “American Heritage” shoes and boots is made out of their factory in Red Wing, Minnesota. They also have factories in Potosi, Missouri and Danville Kentucky.

Red Wing Heritage Men’s Classic Moc Boot, made in the USA

I can’t say enough good things about Red Wing Shoes. On their own Web site, they make sure that every product, whether it’s made in the USA or elsewhere, has Country of Origin clearly marked. As I go through a random sampling of boots and shoes, I see products made in Vietnam, Cambodia, and no trace of China. And on Amazon, all of their shoes that are made in the USA clearly say so in their product description.

And of course, when I go to the Heritage section of their Web site, every single product is gloriously marked as made in the USA.

Red Wing Shoes needs to climb up from the 14th most popular brand to the first. Any consumer who cares about the future of their country needs to buy at least one pair of work boots, hiking boots, athletic shoes, or casual shoes from them. Here are some of their most popular models.

Classic Moc 6″ Boot

Iron Ranger 6″ Boot

Iron Ranger 6″ Vibram Boot

Hints for avoiding made in China: Buy anything from their Heritage line and be assured you’re getting the best quality shoe available. Or, visit a store in person to confirm that you’re buying a shoe made from a country other than China.

15. Wolverine / Merrill ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – A

Wolverine was a company that went all-in to China back around 2010. But in recent years, it realized the foolishness of its ways and has decreased its footprint (no pun intended) to an amount that is now smaller than the rest of the industry.

Wolverine Men’s 1000 Mile Fashion Boot, Made in the USA

Similar to Red Wing Shoes, they also maintain a clothing line called Heritage that is completely made in the USA. The 1000 Mile boot you see to your right at one point had been made in China, but now it’s made in the USA; even the raw materials are from the USA–the upper leather is from Chicago, the outsole leather is from WIlliamsport, PA, and the laces are from Bowling Green, KY or Landrum South Carolina. As with Red Wing, their Web site does a nice job of identifying where their products are made.

I’m lumping Merrill in here mainly because Wolverine owns Merrill, and Merrill happens to be one of my favorite shoes. Specifically, I haven’t had any problems finding their Moab 2 Hiking Shoes made in Vietnam. Other Wolverine brands seem to be hit-or-miss, as I referenced with Hush Puppies above.

Hints for avoiding made in China: Buy anything from their Heritage line and be assured you’re getting the best quality shoe available. Or, visit a store in person to confirm that you’re buying a shoe made from a country other than China.

Do you know of other shoes or sneakers not made in China worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *