A sustained appetite for sneakers is fuelling a comfort-focused shift in the footwear market.
Growth in the UK footwear market continues to outpace fashion, increasing 8% in 2017 compared with 3.1% clothing sales growth, reports market research agency Mintel. It predicts the UK market will be worth £15.6bn by 2023.
Much of this growth has been fuelled by the dominance of trainers. Retail analyst Edited reports that more than a third of shoes on sale at online retailers Farfetch and Zalando in July were in the “athletic footwear” category.
However, beyond booming sales of trainers themselves, fashion trends are increasingly veering towards relaxed, casual aesthetics, particularly driven by the performance and sportswear boom, and shoppers are hunting for an increased practicality in their footwear options.
Despite focusing on formal and heeled styles, luxury women’s footwear brand Alexander White is selling a lot of low-heel styles.
“People are more focused on more practical shoes now,” explains founder Alexander White. “The woman that used to wear high heels is looking for something a little more practical. This is partly driven by the trainer trend and overall casualisation.”
Julia Mayer, founder of London-based brand Julia Mays agrees, but notes that the appetite for luxury persists: “There is definitely an overall more casual approach to footwear that has customers feeling at ease with wearing trainers and slides in all sorts of settings. So, the market is being dominated with casual styles. Highly luxury, opulent footwear increasingly offers a strong counterweight.”
Casualisation is also king in menswear, but Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at US trade show company UBM Fashion, notes a reverse effect – casual styles taking on a more tailored edge: “Our world has become more casual, but we are beginning to see the trend shift a bit within men’s. Men’s athleisure footwear is taking on a dressier outer look with sneaker innards.”
Growth in footwear is still outpacing fashion, but it is starting to slow: Mintel predicts growth in the UK market will drop to 5% in 2018, from 8% in 2017 and a peak of 12.1% in 2014. Meanwhile, the buoyant sneaker market is diversifying to draw in more customers and create casual styles for all occasions.
“No longer is this market just simply about pairing sporty shoes to casualise a look,” says Aryan Anbari, product marketer at Edited. “There are multi-faceted needs for sneakers. As consumers, we’re building out our sneaker wardrobes: one or two pairs don’t cater to all the demands we place on this style of footwear.”
“It doesn’t feel like one style is being relied on from the brands’ perspective – they’re creating a much more varied range than they were before,” adds Bethany Heggarty, co-founder of women’s sneaker store Pam Pam. “We’re seeing a more varied range from brands than before, catering for different and broader customer bases.”
Despite the continuing strong performance of trainers, the market is still a challenging place: the looming prospect of Brexit and falling footfall is making buyers nervous about the future state of the market.
“Businesses don’t know what will happen with Brexit and the more that nervousness is fed to the consumer the more it negatively impacts their purchases,” says Tony Evans, sales director at Jacobsen Group brands, which represents brands including Gola Classics, Ravel, Dunlop and Frank Wright. “We need more clarity and certainty with what comes next.”
Footwear designer White agrees, highlighting buyer caution as uncertainty in the market persists. “So many companies are playing it safe,” he says. “[They are] not buying new collections or buying small quantities. People are saying they’re continuing to watch the market to see how things evolve.”
Conversely, to combat future uncertainties, Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at US trade show owner UBM Fashion, stresses the importance of daring to add newness into a product mix: “Look for brands that are not your usual suspects. There are many fabulous brands out there. In finding new brands – and I do not mean new in business, I mean new to buyers’ stores and product mix – they will find their customers respond by buying. These brands may be able to provide the retailer better margins and there will be less competition from other retailers.”
The UK footwear market by numbers
8% growth in 2017 reaching £11.8bn
5% growth forecast for 2018
26% footwear growth by 2023 reaching £15.6bn
Footwear growth peaked at 12.1% in 2014