The number of UK visitors to Dusseldorf footwear fair GDS seem to be falling, with rival shows such as Moda and Micam proving increasingly attractive to buyers. However, the show is still well worth a visit for retailers that have comfort styles at their core.
Despite the lack of big-name exhibitors, there was plenty of variety among the styles on offer. Almond-toe Mary Janes provided a contemporary flavour in brushed metallics and olive and wine shades, while vegetable-tanned leather was abundant from smaller European brands. Buckles and fake animal skins added decoration to comfort- and orthopaedic-led ranges.
After a challenging autumn 06, with full-length boot sales a particular struggle, buyers at GDS were putting their budgets behind ankle boots. Peter Ashton, managing director of Ashton Associates, the holding company of Ara Shoes, said: "It's all about ankle boots in wider-leg fittings and waterproof fabrics."
Ara is at the forefront of the comfort market and is the biggest comfort footwear manufacturer in Germany. It made its debut in the UK market seven years ago. Key for the brand this season is its range of ankle boots and its partnership with Gore-Tex. The label provides waterproof footwear in classic styles, which feature wider fittings with soft leather finishes and padded insoles. Each style is designed to cushion feet, taking into account each foot's anatomical structure. Styles are available in four widths and in half sizes. Prices from £17 to £30.
Having hit about 1,000 doors, Padders has now capped its UK distribution and is focused on reinvigorating the brand. Exhibiting at GDS for the first time in 10 years, Padders showed a mix of core and new styles, including a breast cancer charity shoe in baby pink leather, metallic pumps in brushed pewter and Velcro-strapped low wedges. Prices from £17 to £22.
With ankle boots an increasingly popular trend, Camel Active put its weight behind the category at GDS. The women's footwear range has grown significantly since its launch four years ago and now accounts for 23% of the brand's total sales. It is complemented by the core men's collection of heritage boot styles and city shoes for autumn 07. Prices from £25 to £35.
With one of the most accomplished collections on show, Gabor presents buckled low-cut pumps in wine and olive alongside gunshot metallic ankle boots with on-trend strapping and mid-height heels. Almond-toe T-bar pumps add a twist. As well as the label's core comfort styles there is also a less adventurous but commercial range of low wedge shoes and ballet pumps. Prices from £20 to £60.
MBT, or Masai Barefoot Technology, claims to be the first physiological footwear brand. The styles are designed to simulate walking in sand and work to improve the posture of those wearing them. A range of nubuck city shoes has been added to MBT's collection for autumn 07. The Swiss brand is looking to double its number of UK accounts, which currently stands at 200. Prices on application.
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Bread and butter ranges such as the Klaus style are still key at Rieker. However, in an effort to target younger shoppers, the German label has introduced women's almond-toe Mary Janes for autumn 07, as well as a sporty collection of Velcro-strap trainer shoes for men. The brand has a big emphasis on boots on the back of strong sell-through last year. Prices from £17 to £20.
Loint's is based in Kaatsheuvel, a small town in the Netherlands that is the main centre for tanneries and shoe manufacturers in the country. The brand's comfort footwear is handmade using northern European vegetable-tanned leather. It is on the hunt for a UK agent but can supply UK retailers via its website, with autumn deliveries set to hit shops at the end of August. The core range is priced at £40.
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Noat was a name on everyone's lips at GDS. Former Ecco managing director Mark Pearson has taken on the UK distribution for this Turkish footwear label. And with recent investment from venture capitalist Shamrock, Noat's future looks bright. Noat currently has 200 doors in the UK, and its autumn collection includes ankle boots with pleated leather edging and lace-up pumps. Prices from £25 to £48.
For autumn 2007 Scholl has launched Twist, a brightly coloured take on its heritage clog style. Patterned waxy uppers in neon and animal prints herald a funkier direction for the brand. The core offer is not neglected, with mules in soft leather and nubuck featuring gel insoles for added comfort. Prices from £12 to £47.
Launched six years ago, Think! provides a fresh and eclectic range of footwear, from the directional to the practical. Felt slip-ons, brushed leather ankle boots and a strong men's offer have all attracted interest from top UK footwear independents including Shoon and London's Boot Tree. This season the brand has designed more feminine lasts, in contrast to its previously orthopaedically-focused approach. Men's styles remain traditional, but some younger styles have been thrown into the mix. Removable footbeds for orthotics and breathable uppers are used across the range. Prices from £23 to £80.
The men's footwear on offer from German brand Josef Seibel features traditional workwear-inspired boots with heavy soles, along with a modern take on a Velcro lace-up fastening. For women, clogs in bright waxy leathers - a look seen on this season's Paris catwalks - demonstrate that comfort styles can also take their place on the fashion-trend front line. Prices from £21 to £39.
An own-brand manufacturer for the likes of Scholl, Portuguese supplier Aco was exhibiting Portania, its own women's comfort footwear label with plans to expand its accounts in the UK. For autumn 07 the brand offers Strobel-constructed footwear in soft leather. Other styles include low-wedge boots with removable insoles, Velcro fastenings and 1970s-inspired panelled styles in pink, black and neutrals. Prices from £48 to £65.
00 35 1 91 72 42 899.