As athleisure and athletic-inspired styles continue to dominate in footwear, luxury brands have learned to adapt, leading to a rapidly changed landscape and a different definition of what luxury footwear actually looks like.
According to market analysts at The NPD Group, fashion footwear has seen some of the strongest growth in the sector in years, peaking at more than $60 billion in sales in 2018, driven by the strength of the sports leisure category and a resurgence in sandals and boots. Overall, comfort has become a powerful force at all price ranges.
NPD’s annual U.S. Luxury E-commerce Report in January credited a competitive and evolving environment in designer footwear circles for the success of footwear in the luxury sector, especially in online sales—about 50 percent of all online dollars for luxury apparel were spent on footwear. The designer and luxury footwear category also boasts the highest average spend per buyer and annual purchase frequency, according to the report, and the average online spend for the category increased 4 percent to $794 in 2018, with an average of 1.6 purchases a year.
Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst of fashion accessories and footwear at NPD, says the strength of luxury footwear lies in the sector’s recent willingness to embrace comfort and athletic trends, bypassing traditional blockades among luxury and aspirational consumers thanks to a new kind of exclusivity.
“The athletic piece has, in some cases, become synonymous with luxury,” Goldstein said. “Obviously, it’s a smaller piece of the overall business, but you also have the sneaker resale side of things which puts a more exclusive spin on the business.”
If luxury is about making a statement, brands have quickly learned that sneakers as a surefire vehicle for doing so. Luxury-minded statement sneakers have become one of fashion’s safest bets, topping the list of most-searched items on the Pinterest 100 and making up 54 percent of all sneakers on the market in Q3 of 2018.
“Luxury still encompasses designer brands but that definition has broadened. Its now into athletic, streetwear and comfort,” Goldstein explained. “Now there are all these upstart brands telling these great stories and the product there is similar to what other brands are putting out. But, there is something about it that is capturing attention.”
Allbirds frequently pops up as an example of a brand coming from nothing and making its name known in footwear. Its growth into one of the most famous premium footwear brands, all on the back of a simple comfort silhouette, was enough to help boost the price of wool in the start of 2018.
Goldstein also touted Crocs as another example of a brand that has, perhaps unexpectedly, made inroads into the luxury footwear realm
“They’ve had some fun collaborations, which isn’t necessarily driving the volume we are seeing come out of them, but it’s showing the brand in a different light,” Goldstein said. “There are all of these different factors that are now leading to that sense of luxury.”
Crocs dropped two collaboration styles with popular rapper, singer and songwriter, Post Malone, in 2018. Currently, the most recent silhouette can be found on GOAT’s sneaker resale platform for $175. Not only has the volume for the brand been up, as Goldstein noted, but the brand’s mindshare with a younger audience has subsequently improved as a result.
To NPD, this means that the value of luxury footwear is no longer limited to the reputation of the designer—although sneakers from Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton still remain top sellers. Rather, it’s what the overall proposition can bring to the buyer; be it fashion, sustainability or quality.
“It’s partly the higher-end athletic styles that are driving the growth, it’s partly the idea of investing,” Goldstein said. “If the quality and the proposition is there—consumers seem willing to do that.”