Outdoor enthusiasts: Stock up on specialty footwear now, or watch as prices on waterproof trail running shoes and other kicks rise nearly 40 percent in 2013.

Unless Congress overturns the Obama administration's decision to oppose outdoor industry duty suspension bills, prices on specialty footwear are set to increase as much as 38 percent Jan. 1, said Outdoor Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer.

The tariffs will affect technical footwear manufactured overseas. That includes waterproof and breathable footwear, trail running shoes and rubber-soled boots, Hugelmeyer said, hurting manufacturers, retailers and consumers, especially in outdoor-lifestyle hubs like Boulder.

Footwear accounts for 30 percent of all outdoor specialty retail sales, Hugelmeyer said.

"It hurts," said La Sportiva North America President Jonathan Lantz. "It's an immediate shot to your bottom line for anybody selling this type of footwear."

For the last six years, specialty shoe tariffs have hovered between 10 and 20 percent because of "miscellaneous tariff bills" that temporarily reduce or suspend duties to keep prices competitive. Hugelmeyer said the tariff bills have allowed the outdoor industry to reallocate more than $30 million toward new products, jobs and lower prices.

The Obama administration announced Nov. 16 it would oppose the bills, possibly to use as leverage in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, specifically with Vietnam, Hugelmeyer said.


Lantz said La Sportiva, headquartered in Boulder, has 16 models that fall into the category affected by the tariffs. La Sportiva manufactures 60 percent of its products in Italy, 28 percent in China and 12 percent in Vietnam.

The company has already set prices for 2013, which means it will have to absorb the losses caused by the tariffs.

"We set our pricing on a six-month basis, so we're going to suck it up and take the hit," Lantz said. "Then what we're really going to do is keep fighting and see if we can have the MTBs reinstated."

The tariffs will limit La Sportiva's plans for hiring, marketing and employee appreciation programs in 2013, Lantz said.

"When you have that increase in cost, and you've already set prices to retailers, really what you've got to do is cut expenses," he said.

The OIA says outdoor recreation represents $646 billion in direct spending in the U.S. and provides more than 6.1 million American jobs.

Scarpa North America President Kim Miller said the decision is "game-changing," adding that most outdoor footwear companies will lose all profit on those sales because of the tariffs.

"That is the margin for most people," he said. "The duty increase would kill any profitability for anybody across the board. This is a disastrous event if it happens."

If the tariff bills aren't re-enacted, Miller said Boulder-based Scarpa will drop products and increase prices. Miller said the tariffs would affect at least 30 Scarpa products, especially those produced in Asia.

Miller said the timing of the Obama administration's decision -- with little more than a month for the industry to respond -- has made it difficult to fight back.

"It's the month before Christmas, and half of us are in the ski business," he said. "We are paying attention to other things. There's no time to react. It's really saddening, and it's super out-of-character for the administration."

However, Neptune Mountaineering owner Gary Neptune said he would be "happy" for the cost of shoes to increase. He said the international tariffs could force specialty shoemakers to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

He added that if shoes become more expensive, consumers will hold on to them longer, which means less waste.

"If they have to keep (them) for a long time, that's better for the whole world," Neptune said.

At Outdoor Divas, a Boulder outdoor specialty shop for women, founder Kim Walker said she has no choice but to pass along the price increase to consumers, which could mean fewer purchases.

"We're not talking about a couple dollars here," said Walker, who also sits on the OIA board. "I do think it's going to impact what we see the consumer doing."

OIA trade policy director Alex Boian says Congress could decide as soon as next week whether to overturn the administration's decision.