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Walking in the US first lady's shoes
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Chinese exports may have hit a slump, but a shoe factory in Sichuan province has defied the trend, and it has the first lady of the United States to thank for that.

Orders have been pouring in at Reoblan ever since Michelle Obama was seen wearing Bandolino Berry shoes at a public function at the beginning of the year.


US first lady Michelle Obama was seen wearing Bandolino Berry shoes at a public function at the beginning of the year.  [coolspotters.com]

The Reoblan factory in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, makes the Berry shoes. It was doing good business, selling as many as 500,000 pairs in the second half of 2007 alone, even before Michelle Obama was seen wearing its shoes.

But then the global financial crisis struck, reducing sales of everything from houses and cars to clothes and shoes.

Berry shoes caught the imagination of the fashionistas after coolspotters.com, a fashion website, posted a photograph of Michelle Obama in a "J Crew dress with Bandolino women's Berry pumps" with the caption: "This sweet and tangy Berry is a thoroughly delicious treat."

The US first lady has become a style icon, with the media scrutinizing her choice of clothes and footwear ever since the US presidential election race heated up.

Such has been the impact of her image in Berry shoes that Reoblan has "received orders for 300,000 pairs, mainly from the US market", said Wu Deguo, owner and general manger of the Chengdu factory.

In fact, "we have received orders for Berry shoes every day of the week throughout spring, and more than 100,000 pairs have been delivered in the past two months", Wu said.

Berry shoes with leather uppers, classic pointed toe pumps, were priced at $69 on Bandolino Berry's official website yesterday.

A senior manager of Paramont Asia Ltd Dongguan, international office of Jones Apparel Group, which includes Bandolino, confirmed last week that the US first lady had worn a Berry on a formal occasion. "It was not a customized pair for Michelle. Bandolino shoes are identical and are made exclusively in China," said the manager, who requested not to be named.

It's not only Westerners who think Berry shoes are cool. Fashion conscious people in China too seem to like them.

Huang Xiping, a 48-year-old housewife, said that at $69 a pair, the leather shoes were not expensive. But the Beijing resident added: "Though I'd be convinced about the quality and design of a foreign brand if the US first lady favored it, I buy stuff that suits my personality."

Ken Zhong, a production expert with a global management consultation firm, said: "Shoes are essential necessities. That's why China-made low- and medium-end shoes are selling well overseas despite the economic recession."

(China Daily April 28, 2009)

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