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Footwear Trends in 2020 Favor Comfort Over Fashion: NPD

Nearly a decade since the beginning of the athleisure wave, trends in footwear are still skewing toward utilitarian and casual versus fashion forward.

In a seminar Wednesday at the Platform trade show in Las Vegas, NPD Group’s executive director and industry analyst for accessories and footwear, Beth Goldstein, said footwear represented $77 billion in consumer spending last year—demonstrating 2 percent growth from 2018.

Ultra-practical sport-leisure styles have gained ground in recent seasons, capturing an equal share of the market to fashion footwear. Each category holds about one-third (30 percent) of footwear’s overall market share.

Despite anxieties that percolated throughout the year relating to a government shutdown, tax changes and delays, and tariff uncertainty, 2019 was “not a bad year for footwear,” she said, though growth was “a little slower than the prior year.”

Goldstein pointed to low unemployment rates, high consumer confidence and a steady U.S. economy as contributing to the category’s steady showing.

However, apparel took a slight hit, dropping 2 percent from 2018 to $221 billion, and accessories generated just $48 billion, down 7 percent from year prior. “Bags have become more of a solution than a status item,” Goldstein said.

The shift away from trend-focused consumption has greatly influenced retail overall, Goldstein said, and everyday leisure styles continue to pull market share from both fashion and performance styles across the board.

Brands like Crocs and Dr. Martens have gained favor with consumers over the past year, she told Sourcing Journal, due to their “utilitarian elements and ease of wear.” The sale of fashion footwear styles grew 4 percent over 2018, spurred on by casual sneakers and easy-wearing silhouettes.

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Gen Z made up more than 50 percent of that growth, accounting for about 30 percent of sales. Millennial spending only grew by 10 percent, with the generational cohort accounting for about the same share of sales as Gen Z.

While athleisure styles will remain strong, Goldstein said, “They need to evolve as well. If they’re seeing the same products over time, consumers will lose interest.”

Part of that evolution will include the inclusion of new, useful features like pockets, inventive new technology and waterproofing—all of which would increase a product’s wearability and versatility.

Men have gravitated to brands like Adidas, NPD's Beth Goldstein said.
A fashion week goer in New York City gets creative with styling trainers by Adidas, a brand that NPD’s Beth Goldstein said has been popular with men. Andrew Morales/WWD/Shutterstock

The brands that led the charge for women in 2019 included Nike, Skechers, Ugg, Clarks, Adidas, Steve Madden, Michael Kors, Vans, Sam Edelman and Birkenstock, Goldstein said. Brands that demonstrated high growth last year included Dr. Martens, Sorel and Dr. Scholls.

Men gravitated strongly to footwear stalwarts like Nike, Air Jordan, Adidas, Skechers, Cole Haan, Vans, Timberland, Converse, Crocs and Puma. The brands that showed the greatest growth included Champion, Florsheim and Ugg—all heritage labels steeped in comfort and utility.

Goldstein said in-store footwear sales actually grew at a higher rate than online sales last year, with brick-and-mortar retail increasing by 5 percent and e-commerce growing by just 2 percent. The channels that demonstrated the highest growth were direct-to-consumers, off-price retailers, athletic specialty stores, factory outlets and online pure plays.

While fashion footwear’s online penetration has leveled off a bit, Goldstein said, DTC has exploded. Awareness of digitally native startups is still relatively low compared with their more established peers, but engagement rates are high. According to NPD, half of all consumers that are aware of DTC brands are likely to purchase from them.

The evolution of online to rely more heavily on social shopping is spurring impulse purchases, Goldstein said. According to NPD, 22 percent of shoppers purchased products via a social app like Instagram in 2019 versus just 13 percent in 2018.