The Czech Footwear and Leather Association (CFLA) operates as a cluster of manufacturers and sellers of footwear and leather goods, however, research organisations, educational institutions and testing laboratories are also members of CFLA. For this reason, in 2020, a project entitled "Development of the footwear cluster", reg. no. CZ.01.1.02/0.0/0.0/20_333/0023659 was launched within the OP PIK programme, which is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic.
At present, it is necessary to focus on digitalization, modern technologies and modern forms of management, new forms of knowledge sharing among cluster members, new forms of marketing, networking and sustainability. The aim of the project is therefore to improve cooperation between cluster members, to exploit the potential of existing members and to attract new members with technological know-how. Today, footwear companies tend to be small and medium-sized enterprises, often family-owned. The CEOs of the companies have to take care of the development of new collections of footwear and leather goods as well as the supply and marketing of production. For this reason, they do not have many opportunities to pursue technological know-how, to devote themselves to the digitalisation of production and to the use of new technologies. Often, they are also prevented from doing so by the higher purchase price of plotters and 3D scanners, automatic milling machines, etc., but often they only have sufficient and verified information.
An important group of entrepreneurs within the CFLA are orthopaedic shoe and insole manufacturers. In addition, communication with doctors and other experts plays an important role here. In the medical device segment, where individual orthopaedic shoes and insoles are included, the transition to digitalisation is now a necessity. To achieve this goal, close cooperation with Tomas Bata University (UTB) and the new Centre for Footwear Research (CFR), the Czech Podiatric Society (CPS) or the Czech Society for Orthopaedics and Traumatology (CSOT) will serve. With these professional institutions, the CFLA will organise regular conferences and training sessions for its members, where all new developments in the field and new technological solutions will be presented. It is planned to have lecturers from abroad. International seminars on this topic will take place at the Rehaprotex trade fair in Brno in October.
Another topic is the use of new non-traditional materials and technologies in the footwear industry. For example, plant-based materials (e.g. textiles made from banana trees) are a big topic today in the context of sustainability, but also other intelligent textiles with various nano-treatments or climamembranes. In this area, CFLA will cooperate more closely with the Clutex textile cluster or the Plastr plastics cluster. In cooperation with UTB and CFR, CFLA will organise professional technology seminars and conferences for its members. The first international seminar on "New materials, new technologies and new forms of footwear sales" is planned for the first half of November 2021.
By increasing the number of employees at the CFLA secretariat and their internships at footwear clusters abroad, it will be possible to advise and assist CFLA members more effectively and with better quality in their business and promotion on both the domestic and foreign markets.
As already mentioned, footwear companies are currently more likely to be small and medium-sized enterprises, often family businesses. Managing directors have to take care of the development of new collections of footwear and leather goods as well as the supply of production and sales. They no longer have the time to follow technological innovations. For this reason, they often fall behind developed countries and production becomes unprofitable. In addition, young people nowadays do not want to and do not know how to work 'with their hands'. Unfortunately, in the past period, apprenticeships for leather and shoemaking were abolished. It was only 5 years ago that the shoemaker apprenticeship was reopened in Zlín after a 12-year hiatus. There is a shortage of skilled labour in shoe production, which could be replaced to some extent by intelligent technologies, such as 3D printing of soles and even entire shoes.
In the past period, Czech footwear companies had to compete with very cheap shoe imports, especially from Asia, and therefore switched to the production of footwear with higher added value. The market segments where member companies are successful are mainly military footwear, work footwear, medical and orthopaedic footwear, but also children's and leisure footwear. However, these footwear require very high quality and expensive materials, perfect workmanship and are also subject to rigorous evaluation in testing facilities. In addition, the requirements for work footwear, for example, are becoming stricter in EU countries. Small and medium-sized companies are also often unable to meet the requirements of the various tenders issued by the army or the police of the Czech Republic, even though the footwear is often supplied by the winners of the tender.
The aim of the project "Development of the footwear cluster" is, among other things, to improve and increase the efficiency of the work of the CFLA secretariat by gaining foreign experience of the secretariat staff, to implement international professional seminars and conferences, to implement a number of professional trainings for members, to link the footwear cluster to other clusters such as Clutex or Plastr and, last but not least, to strengthen the position of footwear manufacturers on the domestic and foreign markets.
Another goal is to maximise the digitalisation of production, from the preparation and presentation of collections to their introduction into production. The footwear trade should also be digitised as much as possible, which has been confirmed by the new experience and changes in purchasing behaviour during the COVID 19 pandemic. It is always very important that the footwear fits well on the foot, which is possible by creating perfect web applications and e-shops with maximum professional information for customers. As the cluster members are also footwear retailers, it will be possible to create a new functional link between production, trade and perfect web services for the end consumer. For this purpose, social networks, Facebook and other means of communication, among others, will be used.
The innovation of the project lies mainly in combining the theoretical knowledge of experts from universities, testing laboratories, but also doctors - orthopaedists, podiatrists and people from the footwear industry, which is focused on orthopaedic shoes and insoles, functional protective, work and safety shoes or quality certified children's and comfortable leisure shoes. In all these segments, it is necessary to start using new innovative materials that will improve, for example, the microclimate in footwear. It is necessary to start using new forms of foot measurement and scanning in sales, which in turn will ensure a better fit on the foot, i.e. fitting.
There are already signs that the production of footwear and leather goods is beginning to return to Europe, also thanks to the situation that has arisen with regard to the COVID 19 pandemic. Both the European and Czech economies have been unprecedentedly affected by the impact of the pandemic and stimulus interventions are needed at national and European level. For this reason, the European Union (EU) has introduced the so-called "Recovery and Resilience Instrument" under the Next Generation EU plan to repair the economic and social damage and reboot the European economy. Specifically, two hundred billion crowns are allocated to the Czech Republic, which the Czech government can use to rebuild the economy. This is our share of the EU Recovery Fund, which should be used not only to restart the Czech economy, but also to help the Czech Republic to implement the Green Deal and transform the Czech economy into an environmentally sustainable economy. We believe that the knowledge and skills know-how of our member companies will be strengthened by our project and will contribute to achieving the set objectives.