In a world where athleisure reigns supreme, designer brands have been faced with challenges as consumers gravitate towards value and comfort, particularly in the area of footwear. Athleisure’s influence on fashion, combined with overproduction and a consumer shift to online shopping, have all contributed to struggles for fashion/apparel companies over the last few years. But with a more direct sales strategy and a focus on innovation, non-athleisure brands have been recovering.
According to global information company The NPD Group, non-performance athletic sneakers (“sport leisure”) sales in 2017 were up 17 percent from the previous year, and the women’s market alone grew 33 percent,1 making sport leisure the largest category of athletic footwear. This increased popularity of casual footwear means that some brands have needed to adapt creatively in order to compete. Throughout history, high heels have commonly been synonymous with designer, and sneakers with discount, yet that notion is being flipped upside down.
Consumers who buy designer footwear are not necessarily looking to completely give up their designer shoes; rather their demand for more casual options in the space has provided an opening for more fashion-oriented brands. Enter designer sneakers. Numerous celebrities have released collaborations with well-known brands: rapper Kanye West and Adidas, Rihanna and Puma, and Miley Cyrus and Converse, to name a few, and you can’t go very far on Instagram without seeing Balenciaga or Gucci sneakers touted by various celebs and influencers. These “classy” sneakers are proving that footwear really can be trendy, comfortable, and designer.
Innovation is important to the customer, whether in athleisure or luxury or fashion. U.S. consumers like bargain hunting, but are willing to pay full price for quality and better features. Nike is beginning to regain prominence in the U.S. because of its new shoe technologies that are being released in 2018 and 2019, despite very high price points. Tapestry, owner of the Coach and Kate Spade brands, discussed recently that it has re-dedicated itself to innovative new handbags and accessories in an effort to combat creative stagnation. Even Fossil, which has been decimated by the Apple Watch and wearables, has bounced back recently as its sales have started to stabilize. Traditional watch sales were down 6 percent in its latest quarter, but it’s been expanding into smart watch/wearables which has helped stem the bleeding. And Lululemon continues to be the strongest performer in athleisure, due in part to its consistent focus on innovation.
At the end of the day, consumers are looking for the next new and exciting trend, but are also dedicated to their favorite brands. As health- and price-conscientious as they may be, a little splurge can be good for everyone.
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