Comfort footwear brands are enjoying a surge in coolness.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the comfort sector of the business,” said Marisa Byrne, VP of product, design and development at Vionic Group. The industry as a whole is “putting wellness front and center,” she said at the FN Platform trade show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, while helping debut Vionic’s fall line. Comfort isn’t just a necessity for some anymore—”It’s a full on trend,” she said.
Comfort brands both new and old are innovating in materials and biomechanics. At the same time, they are showing more freedom in creative design. “There is still a lot of growth opportunity for brands that have a unique story to tell,” said Renee Newman, VP of sales at Aetrex.
Those stories are important components of any comfort brand’s DNA. With continuing advances in the technologies that give each label its signature brand of support, consumers are more engaged in finding out what feels good and understanding why.
“Today’s consumer has come to expect comfort but does not want to sacrifice style,” said Aetrex VP of footwear design Amy Egelja. The brand has had a clear focus on technology during its 73-year history in comfort footwear, with early forays in digital foot scanning and 3-D printing. But Egelja insisted Aetrex wearers don’t have to forgo fashion.
“Material and component innovation coupled with manufacturing processes make it easier than ever to engineer, build and detail beautiful, stylish footwear,” she said, pointing to the brand’s fall line, unveiled at Platform. The product on display included a selection of booties and casuals. “The lines have blurred a bit between fashion, comfort and active [styling],” Egelja said, opening up the brand’s ability to explore new silhouettes.
Aetrex’s focus will be on creating footwear that addresses the consumer’s comfort needs while touching on new trends, said Newman. “It’s style and versatility combined,” she said.
Versatility remains a top priority for Vionic, too, as the brand aims to expand its selection with new product lines.
“We are focusing on being the brand our consumer can count on for all wearing occasions and all seasons,” Byrne said. Vionic is also working to broaden its reach by elevating its men’s range and breaking into the service industry market with a specially-designed non-slip collection.
While Byrne touted Vionic’s “built-in orthotic support” as the backbone of the brand, sourcing the right materials is paramount to creating shoes that consumers want to wear. Vionic’s fall line will use “the most supple waterproof leathers, suedes and nubucks that are beautiful, but also functional,” she said. The season’s boots will also have “cozy linings and quilted wools to really infuse warmth.” Creating “heels at the perfect ‘wear-all-day’ height,” is a particular goal for Byrne, who added that the brand is constantly striving to hit the sweet spot for optimal comfort.
Australian-born Revere Shoes is also placing a high premium on material selection for fall, with a range of “soft leathers, nubucks and textiles chosen for comfortable, long-term wear,” said product development director Anne Truscott at the show on Tuesday. With an eye toward personalization, Revere incorporates a handful of unique “fit features,” like strap extensions to accommodate a wider foot, or foam fillers that slip under the shoe’s contoured footbed to create a snugger fit.
“We’re genuinely excited about the opportunities to reimagine the comfort footwear category,” said Revere co-founder Craig Truscott. The challenge, he said, is “finding ways to blend functional elements with designs that are contemporary and fashionable.” A quintessential example is the Aspen, which Anne Truscott described as a “sleek leather and neoprene paneled bootie that molds to the shape of the foot.” The combination of materials adds “flexibility for greater ease of movement,” she said, and it contributes to the style’s modern aesthetic.
Ecco’s Trine Andersen characterized the brand’s fall line as “understated, minimalist and versatile,” highlighting casual sneakers that strive for urban appeal. The brand’s primary focus, said the project manager, is to develop “innovative comfort footwear that enables you to be in natural motion.”
The hero of the Danish brand’s collection is the Flexure T-Cap, “a refined take on the iconic shell-toe sneaker,” in both low and high-top versions for men and women. The shoe will be built on Ecco’s signature Fluidform injection-molded cup sole, crafted for “resilience and shock absorption,” Andersen said.
The women’s line will also feature the Flexure Runner, a sneaker designed with “athletic, retro appeal,” she added. “While this is a sporty sneaker that was inspired by runners, it also has a feminine, versatile aesthetic that allows you to easily mix it with jeans or a skirt,” said Andersen, noting that the sole was slimmed down to create a more delicate look. Debuting alongside the sneaker offerings, Ecco will also offer an update on its high heel unit with added comfort features.
With plenty of diversity in technology and trends and broadening consumer interest, the comfort category could find its stride in 2019.
“I think comfort had a reputation as something that wasn’t stylish or chic,” Vionic’s Byrne said. But now, she said, “there are a lot of brands…proving that notion wrong.”