In December, Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay described a style trend he deemed unnecessary.
“Was there an epidemic of frozen feet in sneakers I was unaware of?” he wrote in “Do Men Really Need Winter-Proof Sneakers?”
“After all,” Gay wrote, “isn’t there an entire category of winter footwear out there—i.e. boots?”
Despite Gay’s take on the winterizing trend, this sector of footwear doesn’t appear to be shrinking anytime soon. And it has much less to do with men and even frozen feet than he might have imagined.
The reality is that brands across the spectrum have been sprucing up footwear with elements that offer versatility, expanding the typical wearing occasions that a sneaker might warrant, for example. It’s all part of a larger trend that includes waterproof footwear as well.
For instance, Nike’s Air Force 1 Gore-Tex promises all the style points of a traditional AF1 but with Gore-Tex water-resistance technology, duck boot tooling and a weather-ready rubber swoosh.
But men’s sneakers are far from the only category to get the winterized upgrade in recent years. Ugg, known for its fluff- and fur-lined boots, has seen its fortunes rise as consumers have gravitated toward shearling-style footwear, considering its strong positioning in that segment.
In July, Deckers Brands reported that Ugg had increased its sales by 1.5 percent over the comparable 2018 period. That growth continued in the second quarter, with a 2.2 percent gain increasing to 2.6 percent in the third.
Demand in the U.S., where third-quarter sales increased by 8 percent year-over-year, buoyed the trend. However, interest was balanced between men’s, women’s and children’s styles, Ugg chief financial officer Steve Fasching said, noting an increase in digital consumer engagement.
“Seven million (of Deckers Brands’ better-than-expected revenue in Q3) was delivered by better than anticipated domestic Ugg business, driven by net in-season reorders and led by the strength in kids’ business, the Neumel new male franchise and the Fluff franchise, and approximately $3 million driven by reorders captured in the Koolaburra brand,” Fasching said in January.
This success is part of the “cozy” trend, according to The NPD Group executive director and footwear and accessories analyst Beth Goldstein. As a part of that trend, fashion footwear is consistently incorporating elements that were previously considered functional and turning them into fashion details.
“Lining a sneaker or shoe in a fuzzy fabric can make it more of a cold-weather style, especially during the more mild winters we’ve been having when you don’t need to be wearing a heavy boot,” Goldstein said. “But also it’s about comfort and the idea of being cozy.”
“Even if adding a little fur trim isn’t actually adding much warmth, or you are wearing a fluffy sandal in the summer when you don’t need warmth, it’s soft and comfortable and evokes the feeling of being cozy,” she added.
Ugg has been a key driver in this trend as it has gained momentum over the past several quarters, Goldstein said, and was at the forefront of popularizing shearling boots and slippers for a mainstream audience. Ugg has been on the rise over the past two years, she said, and has been a leader of the so-called “fluff” trend.
“This is something that consumers have really latched onto during the past few years,” Goldstein said.
“Fluff” has caught on with independent brands as well, first emerging in pockets of collections, gradually making up a larger portion of the fashion footwear offering over time.
Camtrade, which operates the Soft Comfort, Secret Celebrity and Enjoiya brands, is currently experimenting with shearling and fur—both real and faux—in its footwear styles, product development manager Vanessa Bolieiro told Sourcing Journal.
“It’s comfort but without all the bells and whistles a comfort brand would have,” she said.
All three Camtrade brands have added shearling styles in recent seasons, including a variety of Ugg-style boots and a fur-lined clog that have resonated with shoppers.
“This is a new venture for us,” Bolieiro said. “The receptivity to the shearling, to the faux fur and even genuine fur has been phenomenal. You have your grab-and-go clog but there’s more wearability with it, being so warm.”
All Black, another independent fashion-forward brand, has offered shearling over the past five years. However, a new sneaker style includes shearling accents on the cuff and upper.
“We’re a fashion-forward brand with a little bit of an edge,” All Black’s Marty Rose said. “When we add fur, it’s to give the shoe a high-end look and feel.”
When All Black develops a shoe in the “fluff” category, it tends to design around that feature as the central element of the style, evident in the uppers of the brand’s sherpa-lined Stomper Sneaker products, Rose said.
However, Rose maintains that All Black’s styles are meant to look good, first and foremost, and doesn’t expect many customers to venture into the snow with a fur-lined heel.
When it comes to designing a shearling product, Camtrade uses a variety of materials in the “fluff” category depending on the specific purpose of the style in question, Bolieiro said. Softer, more luxurious fur-like materials fit better for styles that focus on fashion, and the hardier, coarser shearling inspires an outdoorsy feeling.
“When you’re dealing with the ‘cuffable’ items, you have to be really careful about which fur or velvet or whatever you’re using,” she said. “If it’s too thick, then your cuff is not going to cuff anymore and it’s going to look silly.”
Ultimately, the success of each winterized style depends on consumers, who have demonstrated an interest in warmth and coziness—either in earnest or just for show.
“It’s that feeling like you’re wearing a slipper all day, who doesn’t love that?” Bolieiro said.