By Beth Goldstein
2018 was an impressive year for the U.S. fashion footwear market. Most accessories categories saw improved sales results.
Fashion footwear’s strongest performance in recent years–dollar sales peaked at over $60 billion, with growth in the high single-digit –was driven not only by strength in the sport leisure category, but also by a rebound in sandals and boots, as comfort became almost synonymous with fashion.
Luggage, sunglasses, and small personal accessories were the highlights in accessories, with sales moving into the positive. Consumers’ desire for function and versatility, especially as it relates to travel, helped propel these businesses in 2018.
Fashion footwear’s momentum will likely continue, but at a slower pace than 2018, and the accessories market will continue to level out, but persistent challenges will hamper vast improvements. The most significant trends to watch across both of these industries will be somewhat familiar, further solidifying changes that are taking effect.
Athleisure will remain dominant
Slowing growth doesn’t mean a shrinking market. Sport leisure footwear sales will continue to climb, but as the pace of the increase slows, fashion footwear brands have the opportunity to take back some share by incorporating the comfort and style elements that drove consumers to love their athleisure. This is what drove the fashion space to turn around in 2018.
Function, comfort will become the standard
When it comes to their footwear and accessories, consumers have become accustomed to asking, “What have you done for me lately?” Brands that carefully consider their product’s end use and tailor to comfort, versatility, and accessibility will succeed. This may seem extreme, especially for fashion categories, but consumers are placing value on these features and benefits.
Stores show some promise
While online sales continue to generate most of the dollar growth in fashion footwear, the proportion of growth coming from stores increased throughout 2018. Millennials drove much of this momentum, but it was mostly isolated to branded retailers such as vertical shoe stores and factory outlets, rather than department stores. In accessories, store sales declined in almost every category, while website sales increased just slightly. All of this inconsistency suggests that there is still room for improvement, both online and off, and consumers will be expecting more interaction between the two.
Sustainable materials take center stage
Forty-one percent of consumers surveyed indicated that eco-friendly/sustainable materials are important when considering their footwear purchases, according to a June 2018 CivicScience report. And their top social concern is human welfare, according to a May 2018 report from The NPD Group. They’ve shown that they will support organizations that take a stand on these types of issues, such as Nike and Patagonia. The success of newer brands such as Allbirds and Rothy’s demonstrates that innovative, sustainable materials and brands with compelling stories are resonating with consumers. These issues will only grow in importance, so footwear and accessories players need to figure out how to participate here, in order to remain relevant to a new generation of consumers.
The new year began with some political and economic uncertainty, which could temper spending across categories. However, brands and retailers that focus their product and marketing strategies around making consumers’ lives better will propel these industries forward in 2019.
Beth Goldstein is executive director, industry analyst; fashion accessories, footwear for The NPD Group.