The numerous challenges and opportunities presented by the world's emerging markets were among the most interesting topics discussed in recent months at Empreintes, a convention on brand-building held every two years in Bordeaux under the chairmanship of Jean-Pierre Renaudin, who also happens to be the chairman of the French Shoe Industry Federation. Interestingly, the topic was also on the agenda of the World Footwear Forum, held in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks later. Here are some of the highlights that emerged from the two conferences:

- The current economic crisis in Europe is leading decision-makers to think differently, to look at different systems, processes and business models, based on better knowledge of markets and consumers. It is stimulating more creativity and innovation, as well as more globalization and internationalization, creating faster and more efficient distribution channels for their products.

- Steve Lee expects global footwear consumption to rise from about 21 billion pairs currently to 30 billion pairs by 2024. Based on recent trends, China and India are expected to enjoy the biggest increases in footwear consumption over the same period. The British consultant sees Indian shoe consumption rising from about 4 billion to nearly 6 billion pairs, accompanied by higher average selling prices, while China would move from 2.2 billion to 5 billion pairs. However, much of the additional consumption will likely be satisfied by national producers. Lee sees big opportunities also in Africa, where footwear consumption may reach 2 billion pairs.

- The 3 billion people living in the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – represent half of the world's population of around 7 billion people and 25 percent of the global GNP. Together, they are expected to account for 75 percent of the likely continued annual 5 percent growth in the global GNP over the next 15 years. The world's population should grow by 1 billion people over the same period. Most of the growth will take place in the BRICS. Ten percent of the Chinese population can already afford to buy high-end local or imported shoes. Together the middle class in China and India, which are the most populous countries in the world, will be bigger than the middle class in Europe.

- The wealthier people in the BRICS will continue to crave Western products to distinguish themselves and because they feel they are of better quality than those made in their own countries. Enormous opportunities exist in these countries for mid-tier brands. According to one of the speakers at the Empreintes conference, the more affluent Chinese tend to prefer European brands to American brands because they have a longer history and stronger identity. Generally, American brands are more marketing- and retail-driven than European brands because of the large U.S. market and its lower production culture.

- The wealthier people in emerging markets buy most fashion products abroad because of an insufficient offer in their own countries and, especially in the case of Brazil, to avoid paying sales taxes. Chinese tourists have become the biggest customers at the stores in Paris' airports. The “made in” label is important for Chinese customers. It can jack up the price of an item on the local market by up to 30 percent.

- Big investments are required to build up a brand properly in China, although more and more are entering the market, as it is difficult for the local people to retain all their names and logos in their minds. This is why only major Western brands such as Adidas, Nike, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada have made their mark in the country so far.