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When It Rains, Footwear Sales Pour In

When it comes to selling rain boots, there’s something magic in the water.

Last year the NPD Group named women’s rain boots one of the fastest growing footwear categories in the specialty and e-commerce sectors, and the heads of leading rain boot brands see that momentum carrying into 2015 and beyond.

Take it from Chooka CEO and Seattle-native Rob Moehring, who is seeing a break from the loud print-driven styles the company broke ground with 10 years ago and a booming demand for shorter silhouettes, sleeker profiles, packable boots and a more sophisticated color palette that fits effortlessly into women’s wardrobes.

Moehring likened the popularity of rain boots to the sheepskin frenzy of the aughts. “No one had a sheepskin boot a decade ago, but then the craze hit and now every woman has space in their closets for comfortable, warm sheepskin boots,” he explained. Rain boots have had a similar fate. Whereas rain boots were once used for utility and barnyards, Moehring said the category benefited from being picked up as a novelty fashion item by better retailers in the early 2000s. That high-brow interest led the way for rain boots to become a wardrobe staple in closets of all price ranges and sizes.

“You still have the customer that wants the traditional rain boot in prints and colors,” reported Dave Sengstaken, founder of Däv. However, he sees customers reaching for more sophisticated designs like equestrian-inspired black and sable combinations, cutout treatments and luscious hardware.

In 2014, Sengstaken said Däv had its best year since launching in 2008, with sales up 35 percent. “We used to do colorful prints, and now we gear the line toward styles that customers can wear for her commute and then in the office,” Sengstaken said.

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Aigle is an example of how the category has grown from function to function and fashion. The French brand got its start catering to the hunting and fishing markets in the outdoor space, but Olivier Martin of Aigle North America said that all changed about three years ago. “There was crossover interest from the lifestyle market,” he said, which drove the company to launch a successful women’s fashion collection.

Today, Aigle can barely produce the handmade boots fast enough. Employees undergo two years of training before they begin making the footwear, but Martin said it’s a good problem to have. “The brand is getting more traction in the U.S. and is being recognized for what it is.”

Scrambling to meet orders is a lesson L.L. Bean experienced last winter during the well-documented ‘Bean boot’ shortage. A spike in interest in the iconic rubber and leather boot, primarily led by college students, lumbersexuals and preppy city-dwellers, drove the company to add a night shift at its production facility in Brunswick, Maine to lessen the wait.

The duck silhouette is a look Chooka tackled for several season with a line of duck toe skimmers, a style that Moehring described as a slimmed down, more feminine alternative to waterproof boots. “That style has a lot of traction because sometimes you just need something to keep your foot dry from puddles,” he explained. This spring the flats are popped with bright jungle green and marigold. Expect to see preppy polka dot versions in black and blue for fall.

Short rain boots are also piquing the interest of retailers and consumers, a byproduct of the ongoing bootie craze in the fashion footwear market. Chooka is zeroing in on more elegant versions of ankle boots and mid boots for Fall ’15, while Aigle continues to place bets on its popular Miss Juliette ankle boot. Likewise, The Original Muck Boot Company has had success with a range of gingham shorties that check off a number of 2015 fashion trends.

Tall boot business continues to be strong for Bogs, but Bogs director of marketing David Cook said the short boot category is growing quickly. “We have built our Fall ’15 line to provide consumers with a variety of both high and low versions of several boots like the Bobby, Kristina and Juno,” Cook said. “Overall, consumers are seeking functional footwear that delivers comfort regardless of environment as more and more consumer realize they can balance style and functionality.”

With new silhouettes, comes new reasons for women to shop the rain category. Lemon Jelly, the Portuguese rubber shoe brand, came onto the scene in the U.S. about two years ago with its punchy fashion footwear in candy colors, flocked treatments and glossy textures. The shoes are also waterproof, and have opened up a new way of looking at weatherproof footwear. “Our shoes are not built like a traditional rain boot. They are built as a shoe, so there is a lot of comfort there,” explained Jonathan Mills, Lemon Jelly U.S. and Canada sales director.

They also offer diversity. The Fall ’15 Lemon Jelly line, inspired by an imaginary Gothic royal family (think gold and silver hardware and strong jewel tones) spans from Chelsea boots, oxfords and tall riding boots, to new rain boot high heels. The brand is also expanding into children’s and men’s footwear, the later with a focus on toned down neutrals and matte finishes that can stand up to against any brogue or lace up, in both style and the elements.

The need for waterproof footwear that fits seamlessly into work wardrobes is driving a number of rubber shoe brands to dabble in waterproof leather footwear. Däv is rolling out a tight range of women’s waterproof leather boots including a double buckle midi boot with quilted details and a chic little gusseted ankle boot for Fall ’15.

The Original Muck Boot Company is taking a western-inspired approach to the category with a collection of neoprene and leather pull-on booties. Bogs is also introducing waterproof leather footwear for men and women this fall to complement its entire range of weatherproof footwear.

“Overall, we are continuing to offer consumers varying levels of insulation in order to provide them with stylish footwear that also matches the level of comfort they want,” Cook said.

No one can deny the affect the surge of inclement weather has had on the rain footwear category, Moehring noted. To bridge the gap between rain and cold weather, Chooka offers a four-piece range of fleece boot liners trimmed with cozy cable knit and faux fur. The company has also added neoprene to rubber boots which offers warmth in minus 20 degree weather. “You don’t have to clunk around in the Sorel Caribou Pac boot to stay warm,” he quipped. “Neoprene is still elegant—you can do boot styles with a fashion look and warmth and waterproof features.”

For Fall ’15, Aigle is building a cold weather story with a brand new range of fur lined rubber boots modeled after its core rain collection. By adding fur to the mix, Martin said Aigle is transforming into an all-weather line. After all, it all goes back to those shearling boots, which Martin says might offer warmth but don’t stay dry. “The fur styles offer the double advantage of warmth and waterproof,” he said. “That sits well with the company’s motto, to protect against the nature.”