Portugal's shoe exports grew by about one percent to €1,850 million in 2015, says Apiccaps, the country's shoe industry association, after recalculating some dubious figures. It noted that it was a particular difficult year, marked by declines in France, which is the biggest market for Portuguese shoes, as well as stronger drops in Angola, a former colony of Portugal, and in Russia.

With shipments of 16 million pairs, sales to France declined by 3.6 percent to €411 million. In Angola, they fell by 15 percent to €24 million, and in Russia by 52 percent to €21 million.

On the other hand, increases were recorded in important European markets such as Germany, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. Exports to the U.S. jumped by 48 percent to €67 million and new records were established in Australia, Canada, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Countries outside the European Union represented 14 percent of total exports, and with its multiple export promotion initiatives around the world, the industry is still aiming for a ratio of 20 percent in the longer term.

The association said that 79 million pairs were exported from Portugal last year but didn't provide a figure for 2014, a year for which it did not provide the usual data. Adding leathergoods and components to the footwear segment, the sector covered by Apiccaps registered an export sales last year of €2,057 million, 1.2 percent higher than in 2014.

Apiccaps noted that the present export turnover for footwear is 50 percent higher than it was in 2009. In particular, sales outside the EU have been growing at an average rate of 30 percent during the past decade. Portugal's shoe industry has entered 20 new markets, widening the export portfolio to 152 countries.

Average export prices have been going up while the industry has been trying to shake off its dependence on contract manufacturing. The industry created 300 new brands in the past six years. Some of the newest ones, such as Apple of Eden, Biblical Lust, Friendly Fire and Step 5, showed at theMicam trade fair in Milan for the first time last month.

Apiccaps hopes that the country's shoe exports will finally break the level of €2 billion and argued that the industry has the potential to generate additional annual export sales of €320 million, especially by projecting a better image for what it calls “the sexiest” shoe industry in Europe. A recent study indicates that the “made in Portugal” label still has a gap of at least 17 percent against the “made in Italy” label for products of comparable quality. However, the image gap was estimated at around 30 percent a few years ago.

After spending about €55 million on export promotion in the last six years, the sector is planning to invest an additional €70 million through 2020. Of this, €14 million is budgeted for the participation of about 200 companies in more than 60 trade shows and trade missions abroad.