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Fresh ideas can find their feet in footwear market

Richard Kottler

If you are a small company in the deeply competitive footwear industry, the accepted wisdom is to find yourself a niche unexploited by established businesses.

If you are a small company in the deeply competitive footwear industry, the accepted wisdom is to find yourself a niche unexploited by established businesses.

I meet many graduate designers who target the niche of high-grade, high-priced women’s fashion footwear, aimed at women able to pay £600 to £800 for a pair of shoes. Some of these entrepreneurs have successfully targeted this narrow market by linking innovative design with the ability to market their product.

But many haven’t worked out the connection and commit time and money to creating interesting footwear - though maybe not interesting enough to catch the eye of seasoned buyers in this area of the market. Even if the product is innovative, often the brand owner has no idea how to access key decision makers.

Against this background, it was fascinating to be a judge at the 2010 Footwear Friends Annual Designer Awards, where many of the candidates fell into one of these categories.

The exciting ones were those that had located, researched and exploited a new ‘niche’. These included a candidate who invented a new way to produce footwear, a lifestyle brand whose product was based on cycling shoes, and a new line in moccasins.

There is always room in the market for new ideas.

As part of its Made in Britain campaign to support UK manufacturing, the British Footwear Association has found small UK manufacturers that have created fascinating niches within the footwear market, for example boots designed for playing tug of war, fur-lined riding boots, rowing shoes, and vegetarian footwear. Some have been ‘discovered’ by the fashion pack and suddenly their products are on trend and hot. This is when the niche becomes cult.

Richard Kottler is the chief executive of the British Footwear Association

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