By Beth Goldstein
To quote Queen Elsa in her Frozen II ballad, it may seem as though the fashion footwear and accessories markets are headed “into the unknown” as we enter 2020. Uncertainty about the economy (despite its current stability) and trade will remain, coupled with the distractions of an election year (now really in its second year), and store closures will continue. But in no uncertain terms, consumers’ new priorities are driving the trends we’ll see in 2020.
Sport leisure, or casual fashion and nonperformance sneakers, drove the U.S. footwear industry’s low single-digit growth in 2019. NPD’s Future of Footwear report forecasts that in 2020, sport leisure footwear sales will outpace fashion to become the largest footwear category. Based on where the market stands coming out of 2019, we are well on our way to seeing this come to fruition.
Collaborations and partnerships will continue to keep athleisure fresh, even if they aren’t big volume drivers, but some have the potential to make an impact (oh hey, Beyoncé). Fashion footwear has been heavily driven by comfort, as casual styles continue to gain share at the expense of dress, and this shows no signs of slowing down. Dress itself will continue to become less dressy, as a wider array of styles has become acceptable at work and in more formal settings.
Consumers want ease and convenience, and they are gravitating to products and shopping platforms that deliver it. While overall accessories sales slowed in 2019, more functional items such as luggage, backpacks, and sunglasses continued to outperform the overall market.
Over the past two years, backpacks and fanny/waist/chest packs have been the standouts in the bags category because of the function and ease they provide. Consumers started looking for bags as a solution, not just as an accessory.
In footwear, styles that are waterproof, have comfort features, or are lightweight are driving growth, as their added versatility is valued. Convenience has also played a starring role in the growth of online sales, but that’s no longer enough. In 2020, we’ll see more brick-and-mortar initiatives that will further connect the two.
In the ever-evolving online vs. offline balancing act, we’ll continue to see outdated stores close, but others will open. There will be smaller formats, more open concepts, and experiences both large and small, from roller coasters to intimate book signings.
If Payless stages a comeback, it will have to look much different than it did before. Jewelry and accessories brands (including Tiffany) recognize the need for less intimidating formats that invite consumers to play around with the product in-store.
Popups will be everywhere, fueled by the availability of real estate, allowing brands and retailers to keep things fresh and reach their fans in rotating locations without putting down permanent roots.
Some of the biggest brands and items in footwear last year were unisex styles, from the hottest sneakers to Crocs, Dr. Marten’s, Birkenstock, and more. In accessories, cross body, waist, and chest bags have begun catching on for men. On runways and in awards shows, gender norms are being erased. This year, brands and retailers need to think about how to merchandise and market their products to a generation that views gender much more fluidly.
It’s no longer just about creating products from sustainable materials. It’s now about creating sustainable models for lasting contributions to environmental and societal issues. This past holiday season, about one-quarter of 25- to 34-year-olds and almost 30% of 18- to 24-year-olds felt that giving gifts that “give back” was more important to them than it was in 2018. I expect sentiments like this to strengthen in 2020, across many demographic groups. There is no one-size-fits-all for this issue; brands and retailers need to determine what they stand for, support relevant efforts, and get their consumers involved in the movement.
Despite the current “unknown” that looms over our industries and retail in general, it’s clear that brands and retailers need to be bold in their efforts to drive consumer engagement through product, experience, and messaging.
Beth Goldstein is executive director and industry analyst of accessories and footwear for The NPD Group, a research consulting firm.