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Athletic and Lifestyle Footwear in 2019: Trends, Challenges and Predictions

The global footwear market is projected to reach $371.8 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 5.5 percent during the forecast period of 2015-2020, according to Allied Market Research. Among the chief factors driving the growth are consumer demand for trendy, comfortable and versatile shoes; rising health concerns that are prompting more people to engage in physical activity; product and materials innovation; advances in sustainability throughout the supply chain; and a shifting retail landscape. In the year ahead, more brands will work to improve their supply chains, and retailers will continue to grapple with changes in consumer buying behavior. And on all sides, there will be a strong focus on speed to market.

We spoke to four footwear experts—Connie Rishwain, president of Vionic; Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor USA/Agron, Inc.; Matt Powell, senior industry advisor for sports at The NPD Group; and Greg Diharce, chief product officer at Matmarket—to get their take on what lies ahead for the footwear industry.

SJ: What are the key footwear trends you’re seeing heading into 2019?

Rishwain: We’re seeing the layering of textures and tones. High-shine juxtaposed with matte finishes, smooth materials paired with textured ones. Tortoise, snake prints, metallics and mules are trending. The new rich, beautiful materials allow us to freshen up classic looks and introduce new styles. Consumers will love what they find in 2019.

Thomsen: Adidas Outdoor is continually looking for innovation that meets consumer demand. With the brand’s global commitment to sustainability, our Parley for the Oceans partnership is still key and showcases our proprietary technologies engineered for best-in-class performance. Adidas Outdoor seeks to offer consumers several crossover shoe styles with a performance base, but with a fashion/city/outdoor vibe. This is an area where we feel we can do more. For Spring/Summer 2019 there are a number of technical footwear styles, but with an added fashion focus. The collection suits a younger consumer who also wants to be able to wear it on the street. For example, we’re seeing an amazing response to the Adidas Terrex Free Hiker. To take it from the trails to the streets, we offer the hiker in three to four different colorways—from vibrant, splashed with color to basic, straightforward styles.

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Powell: The biggest trend is that performance footwear as fashion is out. We are clearly in a sportswear cycle today so the consumer does not need expensive technical shoes. Sustainability is another key trend. Consumers are very concerned about climate change.

Diharce: Manufacturers are starting to look outside of polyester and nylon and are trying new chemistries and fiber types, along with more efficient manufacturing methods, to create shoe uppers. I also think the market will see EVA cushioning systems in all types of footwear. Almost every company has created a branded foam cushioning technology and the concept is moving into the higher-end and dress categories.

There is also a trend toward new constructions and flexible creativity, with the idea being to build quick “craft” products that look like premium footwear but can be produced faster. In general, there’s a resurgence of craft that’s not limited to the athletic market; it’s also spreading into outdoor footwear. The key is to use highly customizable materials that can be delivered quickly. Consumers want personalization, but it goes against efficient manufacturing. The push is on for creating a quick “craft” feel at a lower price point. This entails short production runs and no seasonal timelines. A shoe that feels exclusive or limited and sells for $50 per pair will do well.

SJ: What challenges will the footwear market face in the coming year?

Rishwain: Costs and tariff concerns are the biggest challenges for the footwear market. We are optimistic about our parent company, Caleres, helping us with sourcing in the coming years.

Thomsen: The strength of the Adidas brand has never been stronger. So, while there are obvious challenges with changing financial policies, such as tariffs, and added competition in the marketplace, we’ve been able to establish a very strong position in specialty outdoor stores and sporting goods shops for a number of years. Our continual challenge is to seek out new opportunities to be competitive in the shifting retail landscape.

Our current focus is looking at expanded distribution channels, like specialty running and lifestyle. In 2019, our focus on specialty will coincide with a continued increased push in trail running for Adidas Outdoor—a category that continues to grow year-over-year. Our overall interest is to introduce healthy outdoor activities, such as running, biking, climbing and hiking, to the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

Powell: Speed-to-market is the largest controllable issue. Trends are changing so quickly, and brands are not responding quickly enough. Tariffs are a problem for everyone and not something anyone can control.

Diharce: On the manufacturing side, supply chain communication needs to improve to bring product to market faster and more efficiently. Sustainable practices are also going to continue to grow in importance.

SJ: How do you expect the footwear industry to fare in the year ahead?

Rishwain: Sneakers and athleisure continue to be a big growth category. We are excited about sandals, booties, dress and men’s.

Thomsen: The outdoor market is ripe for fresh ideas. Adidas Outdoor has seen continual momentum for sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. While this isn’t a new concept in the outdoor industry, mainstream consumers are now coming on board. They are concerned with not only how their products are made, but also where the raw materials are coming from and the social impact of those creations. Meeting challenges with innovation and imagination is yielding new and exciting solutions that not only alleviate issues at hand, but improve current environmental conditions while also offering new options for production and manufacturing.

Powell: Brands have not made the pivot to sportswear so I expect sales will remain sluggish into 2019. We have no hot brand of scale nor do we have a hot item. The business model we are operating under today is the same business model Phil Knight developed 40 years ago. Time for a change.

Diharce: Sneaker culture and lifestyle are continuing to grow, and versatile, casual sneakers will grow the most because they can be worn from work to the gym and they offer lots of versatility.