Portugal's shoemakers swap heels for masks

Portugal boasts a world-renowned footwear industry.

Famous for its leather shoes, it employs tens of thousands of people - across nearly 1,500 companies.

But manufacturers are having to adapt to survive, as Europe grapples with further lockdowns.

Luxury shoe designer Luis Onofre normally caters for Hollywood, with the likes of Naomi Watts and Paris Hilton wearing his creations.

But with canceled social events came canceled orders.

"It was a scary period. We had two to three months - March, April and May - when we practically stopped and I think that happened to the entire industry, 70% of it, stopped."

Portugal exports more than 90% of its shoes - and brands like Onofre's largely rely on international fairs to reach clients.

But most were canceled this year.

Between January and August, exports have already dropped 17% from a year ago.

"For us in fashion it will be extremely difficult because we already had a summer during which shopkeepers did not sell. They are loaded with stock they will have to sell next summer."

Some brands are pivoting from luxury to comfort, marketing shoes designed for wearing at home - or plastic shoes for healthcare professionals.

Others are taking more radical steps.

"In the first wave, we didn't have a big drop in terms of orders, which was very good, but we obviously had a problem receiving raw materials. And that's when we had to reinvent ourselves a bit and adapt."

That’s Orlando Andrade, head of marketing for ToWorkFor - a brand that specializes in safety shoes for the construction industry.

The company rapidly transformed its production lines, making masks and developing other products.

"If something positive came out of this, it's that it made us look at reality in a different way, see potential where we didn't see it before because we were in our comfort zone.”