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Footwear steps up to its challenges

Drapers explores the opportunities and challenges in the UK footwear market

Reebok shoot 2 edit 1

Reebok’s DMX Run 10, a trainer first released in 1997, is example of the trend for retro styles

The UK footwear market continues to experience troubling times. Just a couple of months into 2018 and already there has been a casualty: JD Sports Fashion revealed at the end of January that it will wind up Cloggs later this spring, blaming a “highly competitive” trading environment. It follows the collapse of value footwear specialist Brantano last March, and Brantano’s stablemate, Jones Bootmaker, teetered on the brink before being bought in a pre-pack administration deal by private equity firm Endless. And in November, Shoon went into administration.

Meanwhile, many smaller footwear independents have been dealt a blow following Converse’s decision to axe some of its accounts at the end of 2018, as exclusively reported by Drapers earlier this month.

“It is very difficult out there at the minute,” explains the managing director of one footwear chain. “The appetite for new season is waning [and] retailers are sitting on a lot of Sale stock. January wasn’t a great month and shoppers are making do with what they have.”

Loafers and sports styles have performed well across both men’s and women’s, as they tap into customers’ more casual lifestyles

Daniel Rubin, Dune Group founder and executive chairman

The financial pressure on consumers show no sign of letting up, believes Charles Clinkard, managing director of the eponymous independent footwear retailer: “Currency issues created by Brexit and the amount of economic uncertainty is challenging, because we’ve had to increase some prices in what is already a pretty difficult market.

“There’s nowhere to go: we can’t not pass on some of those increases, although we’re trying to be commercial about it. Wages aren’t going up in line with inflation, so people simply don’t have as much money.”

Etailer Amazon has also taken a sizeable bite out of what is already a crowded market. Its footwear sales in the UK soared by 20% in the first six months of last year, driven by women’s styles. Timberland, Vans and Converse, all key brands for specialist footwear retailers, were among the online giant’s bestsellers.

On the upside

But despite the challenges, this is not a market without opportunities. Burgeoning ecommerce sales are providing a new avenue of growth for footwear retailers.

“Online continues to go from strength to strength,” confirms one footwear chain managing director. “How big of a slice of total sales it is taking is a surprise. The increase in mobile sales is gobbling some of the in-store sales, so we all need to get that balance right.”

Retro styles are definitely a big thing for us, particularly those which have their origins in the 1990s

Rio Holland, co-founder of London-based independent footwear retailer Pam Pam

Dune Group founder and executive chairman Daniel Rubin agrees: “We’ve continued to invest in our online offer and building our multichannel business, essentially increasing the stock pool to the customer. Online sales are definitely increasing at a faster and faster pace each year.”

A growing number of pureplay footwear etailers, such as trend-led Public Desire and Ego, are also taking advantage of the growth in ecommerce sales. This looks set to continue across different sectors – MyTheresa founders Susanne and Christoph Botschen will launch new luxury footwear platform Martha Louisa in March (box below).

Rubin also notes the ongoing popularity of a less formal look: “Loafers and sports styles have performed well across both men’s and women’s, as they tap into customers’ more casual lifestyles.”

Trainers reign

Trainers have long been the shining stars of the footwear market, but the slimmer look created by court styles such as Adidas’s enduringly popular Stan Smiths is giving way to chunkier products, which draw heavily on trends from decades gone by. Balenciaga’s clumpy Triple S trainer, so called because of its three stacked soles, became one of last year’s cult products after it first appeared on the fashion house’s autumn 17 Paris catwalk.

Brands and retailers have rushed to create similar styles and this heavier look will continue to influence the footwear market for several seasons to come, argues Rio Holland, co-founder of London-based independent footwear retailer Pam Pam: “Retro styles are definitely a big thing for us, particularly those which have their origins in the 1990s. Very chunky styles from Balenciaga and [Italian sportswear brand] Fila have been hugely popular. We’re expecting this look to dominate brand’s lifestyle collections for several seasons to come.” She points to Reebok’s DMX Run 10, a trainer first released in 1997, as another example of the trend.

The number of new styles and demand for boots over winter declined, because customers felt they could keep wearing their sports shoes

Nivindya Sharma, WGSN

”Colour is also big,” she adds. “It used to be about the outfit speaking more than the shoes, but now it is about the shoes really popping.” However, she says there are still customers who want clean and simple styles: “This was the look driving our business when we first opened in 2015. Reebok is really carrying that flag.”

The trainer’s reign over the UK footwear market looks set to continue. However, Nivindya Sharma, senior retail analyst at trend forecaster WGSN, sounds a note of caution: “The sports shoe has really dominated over the past couple of years, we’ve seen lots of retailers branch into the category and we know the big sports brands [including Puma, Nike and Adidas] are doing really well, but the trend has suppressed demand for other footwear styles.

“Boots are an interesting one – the number of new styles and demand for boots over winter declined, because customers felt they could keep wearing their sports shoes.”

The tough economic climate continues to hobble some parts of the footwear market, but there are still opportunities for those who can create a range that appeals to customers and take advantage of the growth in ecommerce.

As Sharma puts it: “It’s not just about injecting sport shoes into the mix: retailers need to balance their offer and offer a carefully edited assortment with strong styles.”

Stepping into the luxury etail market 

MyTheresa founders Susanne and Christoph Botschen explain why they have set their sights on the footwear market with new luxury etailer Martha Louisa, which launches in March.

Why luxury footwear for your next venture?

The luxury shoe market has a high potential and we’ve gathered a deep knowledge of it [through MyTheresa]. We are sure that the time is ready now for online specialists. As all the so-called big players get larger and larger, it gets more and more difficult for the end consumer to find her selection. We’ll offer a curated and very specific choice of luxury footwear.

What are customers looking for from their footwear?

We will be able to serve all needs from our shoe loving customers. Although we have curated selections of each brand, we will have an outstanding portfolio from top designers, including catwalk styles, contemporary brands, sophisticated brands and sneakers.

Why are more customers are buying footwear online?

If customers go to the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers, they often see the same styles and might miss special pieces that were presented in the showrooms but are never visible in the market. We have the possibility to change that. Footwear etailers are able to give the customer a better overview of the product range and a bigger size range to choose from. The customer can filter and search very easily for specific categories/styles, and see if they are available in their size – all with one click.


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