After announcing the shutdown of almost 300 loss-making shoe and fashion stores, the French parent company of André, Minelli and many other retail chains said it is looking for new investors to acquire its shoe manufacturing subsidiary, Compagnie Vosgienne de la Chaussure (CVC). The operation, which represents only about one percent of the Vivarte group's total turnover, has been losing money for some time.

Vivarte has also announced the sale of Accessoires Diffusion to Carel, a French shoe company that has eight stores in France and three in Belgium, the U.S. and Hong Kong. Besides its eponymous brand of high-end women's shoes, which are made in Italy, Carel has a younger brand of men's shoes Carvil, for a total annual turnover of around €8 million.

Founded as a trendy women's shoe brand by Jean-Paul Barriol in 1976, Accessoires Diffusion has been turned by Vivarte into a small retailer that generates annual sales of about €4.6 million with two women's shoe shops and 15 shop-in-shops.

As for CVC, the company employs 140 people to manufacture of about 450,000 pairs of shoes per year at a very modern factory near Nancy. The argument in favor of its sale is that Vivarte has been relying less and less on CVC for sourcing purposes, and turning increasingly to manufacturers in China, India and other low-cost countries, while CVC's production has been moving upmarket to justify its “made in France” positioning in the market.

Among other recent initiatives, CVC has struck a partnership with a small shoe manufacturer in Romans, Le Soulier Français that is continuing the local tradition of making high-end dress shoes for the likes of Charles Jourdan. While Le Soulier can only produce a maximum of 300 pairs a day of a given model, CVC can do for bigger runs for the same customer.

The two companies have been sharing know-how and personnel training, but these kinds of upscale products still represent less than 6 percent of CVC's output. The aim is to do more of this type of work for high-end footwear brands.

CVC is also gearing up to manufacture the first “heating shoes” for a local start-up, Digitsole, which presented prototypes of its newest technology at the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the Ispo sporting goods show in Munich last month.

The shoes feature a “smart insole” that heats up by means of a rechargeable battery, reaching the desired temperature prescribed by the user from his or her smartphone, connected via Bluetooth. CVC and Digitsole are applying the technology to various models of sneakers, vulcanized shoes and pumps for which they have just started to collect orders.

Digitsole already delivered more than 10,000 smart footbeds last year to around 30 retailers, mostly consumer electronics stores, after showing the first version of its technology at the CES a year ago. The initial version allows an accurate measurement of the person's steps, the distance covered, the speed and the calories burnt.

Digitsole also showed the prototype of a laceless walking “smartshoe” with sensors that tightens up and opens automatically, adapting itself to the ankle of the wearer. The shoe integrates the step-counting and foot heating features of the other shoes. The company is taking orders for all these products through its own website, ahead of their commercial launch. The prices range from €350 to €450 per pair.

Digitsole is the creature of a French inventor, Karim Oumnia, who launched two other innovative shoe projects, Baliston and Gla Gla shoes, which have been put on ice.