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Step up your game in footwear

Fresh product, a strong stance on sustainability and a top-notch online presence are vital to thrive in footwear

Putting your best foot forward in today’s footwear market is no easy feat. Some of the sector’s most established players are battling with how to adapt to the rapidly changing retail landscape – Clarks, for example, appointed McKinsey & Co at the end of last year to review the business. The retailer said the review was part of a wider plan to grow underlying profitability and “renew its relevance” to consumers.

Yogi footwear spring 20 (1)

Yogi Footwear

Meanwhile, Schuh called in adviser KPMG in August 2019, and appointed retail property consultant Capa to reduce occupancy costs across its 130-strong store estate. Elsewhere, Shoe Zone boss Anthony Smith warned at the start of 2020 that the double whammy of business rates and parking charges was accelerating high street store closures.

“Competition across all footwear categories is fiercer than it has ever been,” explains Lucy Reece-Raybould, chief executive of the British Footwear Association. “Supply exceeds demand and customer expectations are constantly rising. Longstanding price, quality, service, fashion and seasonal challenges are now supplemented by new, complex sustainability issues.

She points out that tough market conditions can create both winners and losers: “As ever, great products from strong, authentic brands that are loved by their customers trump price discounting from poorly defined brands.

“Successful brands engage customers with a choice of exciting, high-quality products, VIP service, a sense of involvement and belonging, strong sustainability credentials, and programmes that reward loyalty.”

The boss of one footwear retailer confirms: “The amount of competition in the market is a challenge. There are a lot of things to get right – customers are more demanding than ever before. The product has to be fresh and exciting, service has to be top notch and your multichannel offer second to none.”

Consumers are looking for integrity in product, a point of difference and a strong back story

Paul Batista, Yogi Footwear

Paul Batista, head of international sales at Yogi Footwear, agrees that a strong brand is vital to  success in today’s footwear market. Yogi creates handcrafted unlined moccasins in Portugal, with crepe or Vibram soles. Established in the 1990s, the label relaunched in 2017 and now has 43 stockists worldwide, including John Lewis, Oi Polloi and Stuarts London in the UK.

“We’re getting traction in the market because consumers are looking for integrity in product, a point of difference and a strong back story,” he tells Drapers. “Wellness is still very relevant, so people want products that are going to make them look and feel better.

“Buyers are looking for provenance and a decent price point. The days of paying silly money just for a label are numbered. They want a good product at an honest price.”

Take comfort

Comfort remains a key trend in the footwear market but there is growing space for alternatives to the ubiquitous trainer, adds Batista.

“Desire for comfort has gone beyond footwear into wider clothing trends – look at the current vogue for fleece and outdoor-inspired gear. Anyone who says the trainers market is finished is probably naïve but there are definitely other categories [such as moccasins and hiking boots] coming through.

“Brands need to have a strong proposition. Having a signature style is important.”

Andrea O’Donnell, president of fashion lifestyle at Deckers Brands, which owns Ugg, agrees that customers are prioritising heritage and brand identity.

“Aside from expecting beautiful product that feels good, customers want a brand that tells a rich heritage story and stands for something,” she says. “It’s no longer good enough to just produce functional and good-looking product – our consumers need to understand our brand’s DNA.”

She adds that Ugg is balancing staying true to its roots with expanding into new categories to keep consumers excited: “We’ve really dug into our brand DNA to create new and fresh products that are relevant to the young consumer but are identifiably Ugg. One of our most successful new styles, the Fluff Yeah [a sheepskin sandal and slipper hybrid] and has been spotted on the likes of Gigi Hadid and Selena Gomez.

“We recently launched our 12X12 sneaker programme [exclusive styles available through key retailers in monthly drops] during Paris Fashion Week Men’s, as we believe we have the potential to tap into the illustrious sneaker market.”

Ugg spring 20 exclusive drops

Ugg 12X12

High stakes

Fierce competition at the top end of the market means today’s luxury footwear consumer “is more discerning than ever”, Mary Alice Malone, co-founder of Malone Souliers, tells Drapers. Malone founded the brand in 2014 and stockists include Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Matchesfashion.

“In a market so saturated by both established and emerging brands, consumers are looking for quality, craftsmanship and authentic brand messaging, as well as competitive pricing, to find their ultimate luxury products.”

Men are no longer looking for shoes that are purely functional

Mary Alice Malone, Malone Souliers

She adds that footwear brands need to keep evolving their offer to keep buyers’ attention in this saturated market: “Alongside a strong core offer, buyers always like to see newness in the collections, and I love to work on sourcing exciting and unique materials to add depth to my product offer each season. 

“Buyers often tell us that other established brands don’t offer this element of newness, and this is what sets us apart – we retain our signature details but are constantly re-inventing and re-invigorating our collections.”

Malone sees particular opportunity in the men’s footwear market – the brand launched its debut men’s footwear collection for spring 20. It is stocked by Selfridges and on Malonesouliers.com

“This is a particularly interesting time for the men’s footwear market as there has been a shift from very traditional footwear, to offering something slightly more special to set him apart from the crowd. Men are no longer looking for shoes that are purely functional – they are using them to accessorise and express their identity in a way that the market didn’t previously cater to.”

Ethical ideas

Sustainable and vegan footwear are growing categories in the market, although it is important to note that the two are not synonymous: plastic shoes are vegan, but not necessarily sustainable. French footwear label Veja, for example, uses sustainable materials such as responsibly sourced rubber and has rapidly become the in-crowd’s sneaker of choice. Stockists include Selfridges, Net-a-Porter, Flannels and Office.

Marks & Spencer, Topshop, Sainsbury’s, New Look and Gola are just some of the fashion businesses to have launched vegan ranges over the past year.

We target a fashion-conscious consumer who aren’t necessarily vegan but like the fact that we are about slow fashion

Natalie Dean, Beyond Skin

Natalie Dean is the founder of premium vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin, which she founded in 2001 after going vegan herself and struggling to find shoes. She tells Drapers that although the brand has seen an increase in demand for vegan shoes, footwear labels cannot rely on their ethical credentials for success.

“Of course, we have seen an increase in demand as veganism has hit the mainstream. As a smaller brand in a market where lots of high street players are coming out with vegan ranges, our approach has been to focus on a premium product. We target fashion-conscious consumers who aren’t necessarily vegan but like that we are about slow fashion and thoughtful design. The fact that the product is vegan is just the cherry on top.”

She adds that brands looking to create vegan footwear can take advantage of the growing choice of alternative materials: “Without doubt, it is easier now to find them. There is more demand, and so more money is being invested into creating them.”

“Sustainability is one of the most important trends, along with traceability,” says the BFA’s Reece-Raybould. “Fashion is arguably fickle and there will also be a consumer looking for the latest trend. However, long-term trends are more about what is at the heart of a brand rather than its newest product or latest colour.”

To stay one step ahead of the competition in footwear, brands and retailers need to have a clear point of difference, focus on heritage and storytelling, and find ways to engage the new generation of sustainable consumers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High stakes

Fierce competition at the top end of the market mean today’s luxury footwear consumer “is more discerning than ever,” Mary Alice Malone, co-founder of Malone Souliers, tells Drapers. Malone founded the brand in 2014 and stockists include Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Matchesfashion and Harrods.

“In a market so saturated by both established and emerging brands, consumers are really looking for a combination of quality, craftsmanship, authentic brand messaging, as well as competitive pricing to find their ultimate luxury products.”

She adds that footwear brands need to keep evolving their offer to keep buyer’s attention in this saturated market.

“Alongside a strong core offer, buyers always like to see newness in the collections, and I love to work on sourcing exciting and unique materials to add depth to my product offer each season. Buyers often tell us that other established brands don’t offer this element of newness, and this is what sets us apart – we retain our signature details but are constantly re-inventing and re-invigorating our collections.”

Malone sees particular opportunity in the men’s footwear market – the brand launched its debut men’s footwear collection for spring 20, which is stocked by Selfridges.

“It is a particularly interesting time for the men’s footwear market as there has been a shift from very traditional footwear, to offering something slightly more special to set him apart from the crowd. Men are no longer looking for shoes that are purely functional – they are using them to accessorise and express their identity in a way that the market didn’t previously cater to.”

Ethical ideas

Sustainable and vegan footwear is a growing category in the market. Look at the popularity of French footwear label Veja, which uses sustainable materials such as responsibly sourced rubber and has rapidly become the in-crowd’s sneaker of choice. Stockists include Selfridges, Net-a-Porter, Flannels and Office.

Keen to cash in on the vogue for sustainable footwear, Marks & Spencer, Topshop, New Look, Sainsbury’s and Gola are just some of the fashion businesses to have launched vegan ranges over the past year.

“Sustainability is one of the most important trends along with traceability. Fashion is arguably fickle and there will also be a consumer looking for the latest trend. However, long-term trends are more about what is at the heart of a brand rather than its newest product or latest colour,” adds the BFA’s Reece-Raybould.

We target a fashion-conscious consumer who aren’t necessarily vegan but like the fact that we are about slow fashion

Natalie Dean, founder of premium vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin

Natalie Dean is the founder of premium vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin, which she founded in 2001 after going vegan herself and struggling to find shoes. She tells Drapers that although the brand has seen an increase in demand for vegan footwear, footwear labels cannot rely on their ethical credentials alone for success.

“Of course, we have seen an increase in demand as veganism as hit the mainstream. As a smaller brand in a market where lots of high street players are coming out with vegan ranges, our approach has been to focus on a premium product.

“We target a fashion-conscious consumer who aren’t necessarily vegan but like the fact that we are about slow fashion and thoughtful design. The fact that the product is vegan is just the cherry on top.”

She adds that brands looking to create vegan footwear can take advantages of the growing number of alternative materials.

“Without doubt, it is easier now to find vegan materials. There is more demand, and so more money is being invested into creating leather alternatives.”

In order to stay one step ahead of the competition in the footwear market, brands and retailers need to have a clear point of difference, focus on heritage and storytelling and find ways to engage the new generation of sustainable consumers.

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