Why Are Shoes So Expensive?

How can something that we need to cover such small areas of our bodies possibly be so expensive?

You’ve probably thought something along the same lines while browsing through shoe stores, both in-person and online. There are shoes out there that cost as much as a phone bill, car payment, or even a month or of rent (let’s not even get started on why rent is so expensive!)!

It certainly seems as if the price of shoes has only climbed throughout the years, and unfortunately, this may not change any time soon. In fact, the global footwear market was estimated to be worth $382.2 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to a staggering $440 billion by 2026! But why? What’s causing everyone to drop so much money on shoes these days?

Well, as it turns out, there are quite a few reasons why you may be paying more for shoes now than you ever have in the past. So, slip on a pair of your most comfortable footwear and settle in while we explore the question: why are shoes so expensive?

Shoes Can Be Expensive to Make

There are a lot of different expenses that can come into play when it comes to designing and manufacturing shoes. Before we get into the general costs that shoe companies have to contend with, keep in mind that with so many shoes available at vastly different price points, not everyone will be paying the same for their production.

Here are the general costs that go into the price you’re paying for shoes.

Making the Shoe

The manufacturing process can vary quite a bit depending on whether you are looking for a shoe or a sneaker. Apparently, in the fashion industry, these are not considered to be the same thing.

Like an Italian-made quality high heel or oxford, a shoe is typically made in a boutique or a small shoe factory. They use a combination of hand stitching, turning, and basic machinery to craft their products, often made of expensive high-grade leather.

Shoes made using these methods usually provide a great fit and focus on style but having your shoes handmade by those in Italy or other similar countries will certainly cost you, as these experts are paid well for their work.

On the other hand, a sneaker is usually mass-produced in a factory, so they’re made with more advanced machinery. Instead of using expensive materials like leather, they tend to rely more on synthetic materials. That being said, top-of-the-line sneakers may cost you a bit extra if you’re looking for certain features, like especially breathable, lightweight material.

You won’t necessarily be paying as much for labor, though, as the factories and people that produce these types of shoes are often from poor countries where they, unfortunately, aren’t paid as well.

As you can see, there are significant differences in the manufacturing cost depending on whether you’re looking at a shoe versus a sneaker. However, this isn’t where the costs end – the shoes still need to make their way to customers.

Getting the Shoe to the Customer

Let’s take a look at what happens next for your average sneaker company, though the steps would also likely be similar for other shoe companies.

  • After the shoes are made, they need to be shipped over to the US, which is often done by ocean freight if there’s a large order.
  • Once it reaches an American port, companies must pay import duties to be considered legally imported. Costs are also added on for customs and insurance at this point.
  • Now the salespeople at the company sell the shoes to stores. Not only do the salespeople typically get a commission, but if the store does any bulk orders, they may be eligible for a discount on their purchase, costing the sneaker company even more money.
  • Finally, the shoes are sold by the stores to customers, at a markup, of course.

Whatever money the sneaker company has leftover has to help pay for marketing, designers, sponsorships, endorsement deals, etc. And whatever money the store makes off the shoes has to help pay for costs such as their overhead, not to mention their employee wages.


So, as you can see, there are many costs associated with manufacturing shoes and getting them to customers. Now consider the inflation rates at home and abroad where these companies are producing their shoes.

The inflation rate in the US alone has increased by a whopping 5.3% just from August 2020 – 2021. As the cost of buying and making goods increases, the overall value of money decreases, thereby causing an increase in prices.

Overall, the many costs that go into producing shoes and getting them to customers combined with an ever-increasing inflation rate certainly contribute to why shoes are – and likely will continue to be for the foreseeable future – so expensive. However, these are certainly not the only reasons; some may not even consider these the main reasons.

Shoes as Status Symbols

Shoes as Status Symbols

Photo by The Paris Photographer on Unsplash

Put quite simply, people are willing to pay the price for what is considered to be quality, fashionable shoes. Rich, high-powered women have been dropping hundreds if not thousands of dollars on shoes made by designers such as Christian Louboutin for years. Among women, at least, those red-soled heels have become a well-known symbol of wealth and status at this point.

And it’s not only women who are dropping big bucks on shoes anymore. An increasing number of men also developed an avid interest in shoes, especially when it comes to sneakers. For example, sneakers have become a status symbol of some of the top male execs in Silicon Valley.

The right pair of sneakers can covey that casual, laid-back look and feel while at the same time showing others that their wearer has the connections and money necessary to procure such valuable and sought-after footwear.

The rising status of designer shoes and sneakers has allowed their manufacturers to continuously invest in and sell elite shoes at various levels of high prices. And what are often the shoes that get the most attention at these price points, you may ask? Those that are backed by popular, famous faces.

Celebrity Collaborations

Celebrity Collaborations

Photo by Damian Barczak on Unsplash

Shoe companies, especially sneaker ones, have collaborated with celebrities for a long time, so the idea is nothing new. Traditionally they’ve paired with athletes such as basketball players with the idea of showing sports lovers that they can play just like their heroes – as long as they have the right shoes, of course.

Nowadays, however, some of the most popular shoe releases come courtesy of entertainers, like Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas, for example. These kinds of celebrity partnerships have helped make having cool or exclusive sneakers and other casual shoes more fashionable in mainstream culture.

This is because entertainers often have wider fanbases than athletes. Since shoes often have nothing to do with how they entertain audiences, these collaborations focus more on achieving a certain look or style.

Choosing a particular shoe because it’s considered fashionable is arguably more relatable to the average person than picking something based on athletic performance. Everyone wears shoes, but not everyone is doing so to play a particular sport.

Even better, entertainers can be doing their thing in the public eye nearly 365 days a year, giving them ample opportunity to promote their products. Athletes, on the other hand, are really only visible during their playing seasons.

All in all, celebrity collaborations are helping to drive up the cost of shoes because people are willing to pay the price to support and look like their idols. Unfortunately, these prices can increase even more if the shoes from these partnerships are marketed as limited distributions.

Limited Distributions

Limited distributions help drive up the costs of shoes due to the law of supply and demand. When a certain shoe or collaboration line is particularly popular and is limited to only so many pairs, the ability to snag one of these exclusives often comes with an increased price tag.

This isn’t true in all cases, of course. Sometimes even the hottest shoes out there are sold for fairly reasonable prices – at least at first. However, costs begin to soar again when people get into the business of reselling exclusive shoes. These individuals will scout out these exclusive, popular shoes and buy as many pairs as they can for the specific purpose of reselling to others who didn’t have the same opportunity.

If people really want to get their hands on a pair, but they’re sold out in stores, then they’ll have to pay these often-astronomical sums to own especially coveted shoes.

Are Shoes Worth Their Price Tag These Days?

Honestly, it’s up to the individual. Some people may think that you just can’t put on a price for a well-made, comfortable, stylish pair of shoes. However, these people usually have a certain amount of disposable income.

The average consumer may not have enough in their shoe budget to procure shoes made with expensive materials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t at least participate in the latest fashion trends.

If you’re looking for a particular style but don’t have the money for brand names, then it’s not a bad idea to shop around. It is possible to find knockoff brands and styles at various price points from many different manufacturers.

And if you’re looking to impress others with your shoe game, unless they are looking closely or consider themselves to be some kind of “shoe aficionado,” then they probably won’t even notice that you don’t have the real thing.

That being said, there are those out there who collect shoes or see certain pairs as status symbols who wouldn’t dream of owning knockoffs, regardless of their budget. To these people, just being able to say that they own a certain pair of shoes is worth any kind of price tag, even if it means delaying a bill payment or collecting credit card debt.

So, why are shoes so expensive? While the cost of materials is a factor, it may mostly come down to people being willing to spend the money.

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