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Footwear’s ‘New Norm’ to Overtake Dress Styles by 2021, NPD Says

Move over, fashion: The NPD Group forecasts sports-inspired styles will be the largest category in footwear by 2021.

Athletic-inspired styles like casual sneakers, sport slides and skate shoes, are expected to surpass fashion styles over the next two years according to “The Future of Footwear,” a report the market analytics firm released on Sept. 26. Thanks to the popularity of the category, NPD also expects footwear sales to grow through 2021.

“I expect that in the upcoming years, more brands will effectively respond to the shift away from performance and fashion footwear to focus on what has become the new norm: athleisure footwear,” Matt Powell, senior industry advisor for sports at The NPD Group said in a statement.

“The nature of fitness in the U.S. has changed, and this has been a major contributor to footwear market shifts,” he added. “Consumers are committed to a healthy lifestyle, but that commitment is lighthearted. They no longer define themselves by their sports activities. As a result, consumers are looking for shoes that are less technical and instead more versatile and every day.”

These changing attitudes will lead the footwear industry down a path in which the leisure footwear space will become the dominant force. Already, in the 12 months ending in August 2019, the sport leisure segment grew by 7 percent as fashion declined by 5 percent and performance declined by 7 percent simultaneously.

NPD said that running and basketball-inspired footwear were the most sought-after silhouettes in the category—primarily thanks to sales growth in the men’s and children’s market—all “intended for style” despite their sporting heritage.

However, athleisure footwear’s growth doesn’t necessarily mean fashion styles will suffer over the next two years. After a down year in 2020, NPD expects the category to rebound on the strength of comfort footwear, styles that affect the same sensibilities as athleisure but are instead built on traditional fashion silhouettes like slides, loafers and slippers. However, fashion footwear with a sport-inspired tilt (think ballerina flats, thongs and flip-flops) are expected to perform poorly in contrast to athleisure sales.

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“As consumers continue to prioritize athleisure and deprioritize dress, comfort and function will be as important as aesthetics in leading the fashion category back on the plus side,” Beth Goldstein, executive director and fashion footwear and accessories analyst at The NPD Group explained. “While sport leisure will continue to grow at fashion’s expense, consumers will seek options outside of sneakers. As a result, active-inspired fashion silhouettes, particularly those with lower and thicker heel options and added comfort features, will help the category in the years ahead.”