Fashion footwear and accessories brands will have success in 2018 if they focus on these three C’s: comfort, convenience, and curation.
By Beth Goldstein
Fashion footwear and accessories players are looking for opportunity in 2018, following a soft 2017. I expect fashion footwear sales in the U.S. to improve slightly and fashion accessories, such as bags and jewelry, to contract a bit more. But, there are and will continue to be successes in both markets if brands and retailers focus on comfort, convenience, and curation.
Comfort is not just an added benefit anymore — it’s a necessity. Consumers have grown accustomed to wearing activewear and sneakers, and they don’t want to give up that comfort when they are wearing boots or dress shoes. Closing out 2017, the women’s active/leisure and comfort brand segments together grew seven percent in an overall flat women’s fashion footwear market. In addition, women’s designer continues to be a key growth area — led by sneakers, as well as fashion boots and mules with low-mid heels. And, particularly in the men’s space, the bridge segment is being driven by brands that have incorporated athletic and comfort elements into their dress and casual styles. This momentum in sport leisure and comfort will continue into 2018.
In accessories, the idea of comfort has manifested itself in the growth of backpacks for adult wearers over the age of 25, particularly for work and travel (or anytime). In 2018, we will see more convertible styles, and new entrants into the market will steal share as the major players in the bag market fall behind in terms of innovation.
Function and versatility is top of mind (think Instant Pot!). Similar to their housewares and technology, consumers are also looking for their footwear and accessories to do more than one thing, or to perform in a variety of conditions. Consumers will place value on features such as weatherproofing, ability to style multiple ways (i.e. adjust the boot shaft height or straps), and year-round relevance.
Bags, luggage, and small personal accessories must meet the demands of busy lifestyles, offering fashion along with functional elements — lightweight materials, multiple straps to keep hands free, and pockets to organize tech and other daily essentials are the kinds of features consumers will be seeking. The designer market will not be immune to these demands.
Expect tighter assortments. Retailers are looking to keep demand high and inventories under control. Personalization options will increase in footwear, bags, and jewelry. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, direct-to-consumer start-ups like Allbirds, Rothy’s, and Away offer very focused selections of feature-rich products, meant to appeal to broad target audiences by solving problems that they didn’t even know they had. More established brands need to sharpen their stories.
In 2018, consumers will be asking, “What have you done for me lately?” And in response, footwear and accessories brands and retailers must be thinking about how their products will fit into and enhance everyday life. Messaging and shopping experiences that address this focus will be critical. Consumers are willing to spend, but they want their dollars to go further. If you can demonstrate more than one of the three C’s, you’ll be on track to take share.
Beth Goldstein is executive director, industry analyst — accessories and footwear at The NPD Group