Fashion-forward contemporary footwear at an affordable price point is enjoying a moment in the sun, and brands see opportunity for growth
Long dominated by the trainers trend, the footwear market is now moving towards dressier styles. Fashion’s in-crowd are donning barely-there strappy heels, minimalist sandals and distinctive mules. At the forefront of the craze is wave of contemporary accessory labels, such as Wandler, Staud and Manu Atelier, who have all taken their first steps in the footwear market over recent months.
Dutch accessories brand Wandler debuted a rainbow-hued collection of heels in April this year and stockists already include Matchesfashion and Net-a-Porter. LA-based Staud, which also counts Net-a-Porter as a stockist, launched its range of strappy sandals, mules and flats in February. Turkish bag brand Manu Atelier unveiled its first footwear collection (pictured above) of nine styles exclusively at Selfridges this May, and will open up footwear for wholesale for spring 20. Footwear prices for all three brands range from around £200 to £300 – sitting above the high street but considerably below luxury footwear brands, for which shoppers can spend thousands of pounds on a single pair.
Shoppers are willing to spend more on stylish, well-made shoes, and not just chase trends with fast-fashion offers. Growing awareness of sustainability is also leading to increased interest in purchases that will last. Add in the growth of social media sites such as Instagram providing shoppers with more inspiration, and the seeds for the market in contemporary, affordable luxury footwear have been planted, and are beginning to grow.
“Launching footwear was always in our plan, because bags and shoes complement each other – both tend to be more long-lasting and important to customers than clothing,” Beste Manastir, co-founder of Manu Atelier, tells Drapers. “We wanted to launch footwear because we saw a sweet spot for shoes made from good-quality leather with more accessible pricing. Today’s generation of shoppers values quality and cares deeply about what they are wearing, but the price needs to make sense to them.”
“The accessories market has been really interesting over the past couple of seasons as these new contemporary brands have set the tone of the market,” explains Claire Foster, director of accessories and footwear at trend forecaster WGSN. “Footwear is a natural extension for these bag brands, because it uses similar materials and aesthetic. These labels tie into the new trend in footwear for a feminine, minimalist look with an interesting use of colours and materials.”
She believes that a combination of directional design and accessible pricing are fuelling consumers’ and retailers’ demand for contemporary footwear labels: “The market wants footwear that is well made and has a much more directional look, but at an accessible luxury price point. Customers want footwear that is trend-driven, but understand that if they buy into trends from the fast fashion retailers, the product might not last.
Foster adds that footwear purchases allow customers to refresh their look without splashing out on whole new wardrobes: “The current message about the importance of sustainability is a really good anchor for footwear and accessories, because consumers can buy a statement bag or pair of shoes and rely on them to update their wardrobe staples.”
I couldn’t find shoes that I wanted on the high street and would be continuously waiting for the luxury retailers to go on sale
Luisa Krogmann, Aeyde
Contemporary footwear brand Aeyde is another that has found high-profile stockists, among them Net-a-Porter and London concept store The Shop at Bluebird. Its retail prices range from £130 for flats to £240 for boots.
“Our three key USPs were design, price and quality,” co-founder Luisa Krogmann, who previously worked at German ecommerce giant Zalando, tells Drapers. “We started the brand because, as a customer, I couldn’t find shoes that I wanted on the high street and would be continuously waiting for the luxury retailers to go on sale, because I was prepared to pay up to £300 for shoes but not over the £400/£500 mark.”
Co-founder Constantin Langholz-Baikousis adds: “We did extensive market research and saw that the customer is becoming more sophisticated and more demanding [when its comes to the quality of their footwear] and saw a clear spot in the market for high-quality, desirable styles at an honest price. Success has come for the brand because of our extreme focus on the customer.”
The duo add that finding the right production to be able to produce high-quality footwear at an accessible luxury price point was vital. They considered manufacturing across Europe, including Spain, Portugal and Greece, before choosing to produce in Italy because of the higher quality it offered.
More accessible pricing magnifies the potential for higher volume from customers for our collection
Emily Inglis, Studio Amelia
The price is right
Price is a key factor fuelling the boon for contemporary footwear brands. Emily Inglis is the founder of minimalist shoe brand Studio Amelia, which launched its first collection earlier this year and already counts Net-a-Porter, London luxury retailer Browns and etailer Moda Operandi as stockists.
“I was frequently encouraged to charge more for my product because ‘I could’, but I would rather my customer is able to buy multiple styles to complement her wardrobe rather than be limited to one pair,” she explains. “Being a contemporary brand means we are more immersed in our customer’s day-to-day life. Admittedly, it does mean margins are tighter, but more accessible pricing magnifies the potential for higher volume from customers for our collection, as well as repeat custom for seasons to come.”
The rise of social media, particularly Instagram, where customers can constantly find exciting products and the next must-have brand, has driven demand for design-focused styles, including footwear, Manastir adds: “Comfort and quality are obviously important, but customers are also looking for something different from what they’ve seen before. Individual tastes are changing more quickly because of social media. Shoppers want to be able to find products that represent them and their own aesthetic to stand out from the crowd and, as a result, they are looking for different design elements.”
Foster warns that the contemporary footwear market is at potential risk of becoming stale as brands concentrate on similar silhouettes. Retailers looking to tap into the trend will need to carefully balance their mix of labels and styles to avoid a repetitious offer.
“One challenge brands have to think about when they make the move from handbags into footwear is that accessories don’t have the same practical considerations as footwear when it comes to carrying multiple sizes. A lot of the contemporary labels are also playing with a similar aesthetic and the same core styles of strappy sandals, block heels and mules, so differentiation is key to carve out a slice of the market.”
Retailers on the high street are also waking up to demand for more directional footwear. The Dune Group relaunched its Head Over Heels brand, which it describes as a “contemporary footwear brand with a distinct personality,” in March this year. Head over Heels was revamped with a new aesthetic and a standalone ecommerce site. Ecommerce and marketing director Rob Silsbury tells Drapers the launch allows Dune to tap into a younger, trend-hungry market and reach new customers amid a challenging trading landscape.
“We’re an ambitious group and we’re always looking for new growth areas,” he explains. “In today’s trading environment, a lot of retailers want to batten down the hatches and focus on what they’ve always done. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but we want to try new things, work harder and work more creatively. Head Over Heels appeals to a younger, more fashion-forward customer and that’s exciting. We think there’s a gap in the market for women who are finished with ‘trash’ fashion, react quickly to high fashion and are looking for contemporary shoes at a price point that won’t break the bank.”
As high street names improve their offer, and independent labels increase their reach, there is a growing demand for high-quality contemporary footwear at an affordable price point. But in a challenging market, brands and retailers must be sure of their offer to capture the attention of a shopper who was has more options than ever.