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Men’s Sneakers Hold Their Pace for Spring ’19

Has the sneaker trend become so ubiquitous that it’s now one of the pillars of the men’s footwear business? A quick glance at the brands exhibiting their Spring ’19 collections at Project in New York this week reveals that there aren’t many that dare to eschew the casual shoe.

Anthony Castelli, Kenneth Cole territory manager, estimates sneakers will make up roughly 20 percent of the brand’s footwear business with the majority from Kenneth Cole New York, as opposed to the younger, more price-conscious Reaction line. Particularly popular are the updates on Kenneth Cole’s Kam low-tops, with hematite metallic strip on the heel, and the Pride model with rainbow stripe in honor of the LGBTQ community, but Castelli predicts the pendulum is bound to swing soon toward an upturn in dress shoes.

Alan Pringle, managing director of Barker, certainly hopes so. The casualization of men’s footwear, he said, “is not such good news for a company that makes classic handmade shoes in the traditional way outside Northampton in England.”

Less than 10 percent of Barker’s business is sneaker-related which Pringle has to outsource because his factory’s specialty is Goodyear Welt constructions. Barker’s success in Europe has now reached Canada, and Pringle hopes to continue in the U.S. The brand’s “dress shoe-looking sneaker” in tan leather is popular for the more relaxed looks, but the classic oxford in tan and navy remain bestsellers.

Timeless colorways like tan, brown and navy are also the top-selling colors for Marc Joseph New York. And if they’re together in one shoe, even better, noted James Scheuer, Marc Joseph New York director of social media and content.

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Scheuer said the brand has been branching out into hybrids—a much-used term at Project to refer to footwear that bridges the gap between formal and casual. Currently accounting for 25 percent to 30 percent of Marc Joseph New York’s sales, hybrids are where the company is pinning much of its focus, Scheuer said, as these styles connect the brand to new consumers.

“It’s what our brand embodies: he’s a man who has multiple things going on: he’s on the golf course, he’s at a work dinner, he’s traveling,” he said.

For Scheuer, the trend for sneaker styles will continue as a result of the blending of technology and fashion. Brandishing a soft grey suede model with white shoelaces and soles, and weighing less than a slipper, he said, “the limit is only our imagination.”

Mike Beagley, CEO of Rodd & Gunn, said the New Zealand-based brand’s sneaker business is also driving growth at the moment.

“We’re getting Foot Locker’s business,” he said.

The brand has rolled out new colors for low-tops including pastel blue. Roughly one-third of Rodd & Gunn’s footwear business is sneaker-driven, while the rest centers around chukka and Chelsea boots. Beagley puts its success down to the similarity to a European-designed product but with a better price, and to the importance of being able to dress everything up or down.

“It’s not quite as fresh as it was this time last year,” Tom Reverand, senior account executive at Hush Puppies, said about sneakers. But the trend has led to the take-off of the brand’s dress shoes in knit fabric with built-in athletic socks in gray, blue and black. The knit shoe contributes 20 percent of sales, but Reverand pointed out that, “traditional Hush Puppies have returned this year and are driving the business. After all, they were the original casual shoe out there.”

knit Oxford
Hush Puppies Hush Puppies

California brand Bed Stu still believes in sneakers—if they’re inventive.

“There’s still more to come in sneakers, but it’s going to take some uniqueness. Taking oxfords and adding an athletic sole has run its course,” Bed Stu’s Jim Leatherman said.

A new addition to Project for Spring ’19 is the “Made in Portugal” initiative, which ushers in a selection of Portuguese brands, one of which is Atlanta Mocassin.

The brand’s product developer Barbara Santos, acknowledged that even a brand with a specialty product, like moccassins, still has to offer sneakers as most retailers are looking for them.

“We are testing new models, but our classic, sleek, clean style in colors mocha or camel is preferred,” she said. “The moccasin already occupies the sneaker space because it can be casual yet formal, worn for work, for dinner or weekends.”

Perhaps the sneaker most reflective of the Parisian runways that first spawned the trend, comes from Selected: it’s chunky, retro and multi-colored.

Although international sales manager Rafal Kucharek Danguard, said the style is “more challenging and for specific customers,” he said the color detailing is taking off in more conservative styles.

“Sneakers are important business in the fashion picture, and the crazier the better,” he said. “It’s now about the evolution of the sneaker. For a long time now, we think it is going to die off, but it doesn’t. It stays.”