The U.S. footwear industry grew by 7% in the first half of 2018, according to The NPD Group. Growth was driven by gains in casual footwear and online shopping.
Sport leisure was the fastest-growing category, capturing 65% of dollar sales gains, as athleisure continues to penetrate all facets of the footwear market. Fashion, which is still the largest category, grew a healthy 5% after two years of declines, largely due to the comfort trend. Aside from sneakers, the top fashion silhouettes in the men’s market were sport slides and mules/clogs, fashion slides and strappy sandals for women, and sport slides and strappy sandals for kids.
“‘Comfort’ is no longer a bad word. In fact, consumers today are reluctant to compromise on comfort and the definition is evolving,” says Beth Goldstein, fashion footwear and accessories analyst, The NPD Group. “With comfort in season year-round and the ‘athletic as fashion’ movement continuing to progress, comfort is here to stay. Brands and retailers must find ways to innovate and embrace this new norm.”
As comfort-oriented silhouettes drive sales and more consumers are purchasing footwear online, additional growth opportunities are also coming to the fore. A recent NPD survey found that respondents are particularly looking for footwear that is lightweight (44%), breathable (43%), and odor resistant (40%) in their future footwear purchases. Social responsibility and sustainability concerns are becoming anther platform for innovation and fueling change in the industry, with Millennials leading the pack. Among adults, 27% have made some type of purchase specifically because of supporting a brand’s social position, and the figure jumps to 36% among 18-34 year olds.
“Brands must be innovative and have a social and eco-consciousness to succeed in the future. Consumers that will soon make up their largest customer base care about these issues. Brands must play in this space and over-communicate their positioning to win over consumers in a footwear market that is both growing and transitioning,” says Goldstein.