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Footwear recalls

Having to recall a footwear line can be an expensive exercise.

by Stuart Morgan

Image © Bogdan Hoda |

Announcing a product recall – whether a voluntary action or being forced to do so by the authorities – is a request for purchasers to return goods they have purchased. It may affect a specific batch of products or an entire production run, and is normally due to safety issues having been discovered.

It is an attempt to limit the company’s liability for corporate negligence (which could incur legal penalties), as well as an effort to avoid damaging publicity. Recalls are costly to conduct in an effective manner, as they often require the recalled product to be replaced or the company to pay for any damage caused during use. Any consequential costs caused by damage to the brand name and reduced trust on the part of the consumer may, of course, be significantly higher.

Action points

The recall of a product usually involves a number of stages, although the specifics may differ in line with local laws. In the case of voluntary action, the manufacturer or dealer will probably need to inform the relevant authority of its intention to recall a particular product. Consumer hotlines are often established to assist consumers enquiring about the problem. It may be necessary to specify how wide the recall is to be. For instance, particular batch numbers may be quoted, or an entire style may be called back.

If applicable, announcements concerning a product recall may feature on a government agency's website, be highlighted in-store and be published in newspaper notices. In some circumstances, a heightened level of publicity – unfortunately often negative – may also result in television news programmes reporting on the recall.

Typically, the consumer is advised to return the goods, regardless of condition, to the seller in order to receive a full refund or modification of the product. The possibility of compensation being awarded to a consumer will vary, depending on the particular laws which govern consumer trade protection and why the recall was deemed necessary.

Why is footwear recalled? The following examples highlight the main reasons in two of the world’s biggest markets – the European Union and the United States.

Recalls in the European Union

The presence of restricted substances is the reason for most recalls in the EU

Nearly all of the footwear recalls in European Union (EU) countries in recent years were as a result of a banned or restricted substance being present. The most common problem involved dimethylfumarate (DMFU), which has been used in an attempt to control mould growth during storage and shipping. The recalls due to DMFU primarily affect women’s and children’s shoes and boots, although some cases of this substance being found in men’s footwear have also been reported. Other EU recalls have been due to upper leathers containing chromium VI or the presence of azo dyes. In one instance, a plastic shoe was recalled because it contained a pungent, noxious substance which was an irritant to the skin, eyes and airway.

Other European recalls (although far fewer), have been as a result of choking hazards, inevitably due to a component affixed to an item of children’s footwear. As an example, one particular babies’ shoe had a fastening button which could be easily detached, allowing the child to put the component into his or her mouth. Another child’s shoe featured flower trims which could be pulled off with little effort and placed in the mouth, so endangering the child’s life. In addition, this particular shoe incorporated a metal plate, which had accessible sharp edges, thus posing the risk of laceration injuries.

Reasons for recalls 2008-2012
Banned/restricted chemicals 83 per cent
Choking hazard 14 per cent
Poor design 3 per cent
Choking hazard 46 per cent
Fall hazard 27 per cent
Laceration hazard 9 per cent
Banned/restricted chemicals 7 per cent
Toe cap compression 7 per cent
Mislabelled PPE 4 per cent

Interestingly, at least two EU recalls were caused by what was termed ‘inappropriate design’. A child’s sandal was judged to be too narrow in the toe, and used a sole that was too rigid and hard, so it was deemed to pose a risk of hindering the healthy development of a child’s foot. Similarly, a child’s boot was assessed as having no box toe or counter, meaning that the footwear could become deformed, again affecting foot development.

US recalls

Some recalls in the US were due to restricted chemicals – for instance, 20,000 pairs of a child’s boot which had a logo containing excessive levels of lead stamped onto the inserts. Although other reasons were also published, recalls of footwear in the US were far more likely to be as a result of the risk of a child choking.

As an example, when the trims on a particular child’s decorated shoe were found to detach easily, the poor design certainly proved costly, with almost 1.5 million pairs being recalled. Such dangers also included fixings – on another girl’s shoe, a buckle broke; the child wearing the shoe then put the broken piece into her mouth and started to choke.

Risks of lacerations were also cited as the reason for footwear to be recalled in the US. In one basketball shoe, a decorative metal rivet on the outside of the footwear could bend and form a sharp edge. There were 35 reports of players receiving cuts to the lower legs, including two people who needed stitches in their wounds. Another example concerned a training shoe, which had a thin metal strip on the outside of the heel that could protrude and cut other players. Several injuries were reported, with five individuals requiring stitches.

Fall hazards accounted for 27 per cent of recent recalls in the US

Fall hazards were the second most common cause of recalls in the US. For instance, one particular style of woman’s dress shoe had heels that could lean to either side when the footwear was being worn. A wearer received a minor leg injury when she fell, resulting in 6,000 pairs being called back. Another problem was found on a woman’s boot, the heel of which could detach completely from the sole, posing an obvious danger.

A similar problem was reported on a basketball shoe, when a portion of the heel was found to easily separate or tear during use. Two reports of injuries (one sprained ankle and one strained Achilles tendon) saw 200,000 pairs recalled. Once again emphasising common sense in design, the zipper pulls fitted to the inside leg of a girl’s boot were found to risk interlocking while the child was walking, causing a stumble. In this case, 90,000 pairs of the boots were recalled.

Indicating the importance of selecting suitable materials when designing footwear was the example of poolside shoes, which were marketed for use around water. Unfortunately, they became extremely slippery when wet, posing a risk of slipping on smooth, hard surfaces, such as tile. Another danger caused by choosing poor-quality components was a snowboard boot binding on which the base plate was found to risk breaking at cold temperatures.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic – and potentially fatal – reasons for a recall in the US involved a ski boot, on which the toe portion on some examples unexpectedly released from the ski binding while it was being used. Severe injuries had been reported.

An additional footwear recall in the US involved another claim that could have had lethal consequences – a logger boot, which was incorrectly labelled as being resistant to electrical current, and so posed a significant shock hazard to the wearer.

As can be seen, footwear that warrants a recall notice can be a danger to both the wearer and the company which manufactures or distributes the product. The unfortunate (and potentially disastrous) experiences described in this article highlight why testing footwear during development plays a vital role in producing a successful – and safe – product.

How can we help?

SATRA members are invited to discuss their requirements with the Footwear Testing Team (

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 38 of the December 2012 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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