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Can Fashion Footwear Brands Keep Up with Athleisure’s Pace?

In a rare instance, Jaime Barr, WGSN Senior Editor, Footwear and Accessories, sees her worlds colliding on the runway. The footwear trend expert is also a busy, Millennial-age mom with a toddler to chase. Barr has enviable access to the most fashion-forward designer shoes, but athleisure, or, as she prefers to call it, “activewear” is her weekend uniform of choice. Barr says she now understands why her mother has always sought out—but struggled to find—apparel and footwear that is both comfortable and fashionable.

That struggle is diminishing as more workplaces adopt casual dress codes, more consumers choose activewear over denim and as brands realize the spending power possessed by the comfort-minded 50-plus demographic is even stronger and deeper than most Millennials’ pockets.

Vionic is one example of a classic comfort-meets-fashion brand that is jumping feet first into the athleisure market. Known for its Orthaheel technology, the company began to dabble in sport-inspired footwear last fall with fun, printed lace-up sneakers that offered the same stability and comfort as its core fashion sandal line. That success led to the colorful introduction of sport sandals for Spring ’16 and an expanded sneaker range for Fall ’16.

“We’ve always had a healthy athletic business, however the advances in our active line are really being driven by what’s going on in apparel, and the focus on an active lifestyle. We know that the trend is going to continue into 2016 and shows no signs of slowing down,” said Vionic CEO Chris Gallagher.

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Vionic is backing up its focus on fitness and wellness with ZenFitness30, a new workout developed by the brand’s innovation lab members, fitness trainer Juliet Kaska and integrative medicine practitioner Dr. Jim Nicolai. The workout includes stretches designed to lengthen the body, strengthen the core and get the heart pumping. Instructional videos and illustrations will be available online beginning in January when Vionic’s Spring ’16 athleisure styles hit stores—peak season for post-holiday resolutions to get in shape.

Barr noted that there are two sides of the athleisure story—one perpetuated by the worldwide popularity of Adidas Originals’ Stan Smith and Superstar sneakers, and another that calls for a mashup of sport, comfort and fashion. A new breed of dress and casual footwear with sport elements is saturating the market, Barr said. Be it chukka boots with a sport bottom, or black Mary Jane pumps with an athletic white outsole (think Rag and Bone this fall), Barr said an influx of hybrid footwear is bridging the gap between dress, sport and athleisure.