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Athletic Styles Lead Back-to-School Footwear Sales

Expect to hear the sound of new sneakers squeaking down school hallways, as athletic footwear is driving back-to-school footwear sales. Coinciding with the ongoing activewear trend, the NPD Group said kids’ athletic footwear sales increased five percent in the four weeks ending Aug. 17.

Basketball-inspired styles led the charge, jumping 70 percent during this time period. The category now represents 26 percent of the total children’s volume—up from 17 percent of sales in 2014 and 14 percent in 2012.

NPD Group chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen said basketball-related footwear has been a “dominate player” in the category this year, attracting kids with unique colorways, styles, innovation and product launches. Cohen added, “This footwear in particular is very appealing to kids regardless of their lifestyle.”

Necessity appeals to parents, which Cohen said view footwear as “one of the early must-haves for their children” as shoes don’t usually survive for a second school year like backpacks and lunchboxes.

Tsukihoshi sneakers are shaping up to be a hot ticket item. Jessica Quiles, manager of Piggy Toes in Chicago, said parents like the Japanese brand for its lightweight and machine washable qualities. Likewise, Roz Viemeister, owner of Shoofly in New York City, named Tsukihoshi’s sporty Mary Janes for girls and its boys’ colorful sneakers as bestsellers this back-to-school season.

Still, retailers report parents are not holding back as much on purchases as they have done in past seasons. Viemeister said her Tribeca clientele is well aware that what is in her children’s footwear boutique today will likely not be there tomorrow. She added, “New Yorkers tend to wait until the last minute, but when it comes to their kids’ shoes they want to shop when the pickings are still good.”

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This year Viemeister is also getting more inquiries about boys’ dress shoes. “Parents are buying athletic styles for boys and are then adding on a pair of dress shoes, which is very new for us,” Viemeister explained. In particular, silhouettes like loafers, oxfords and chukka boots are gaining traction.

In Chicago, Quiles sees parents dragging out a bulk of their back-to-school shopping. She added, “When they can, they are using the same shoes from last year, but we are seeing parents come in for uniform shoes—styles like Mary Janes and loafers by Aster, Naturino loafers and shoes by Umi.”

While children’s designers are upping the style ante of school dress shoes with crackled metallic leather, patents and other embellishments, don’t expect kids’ loafers to outpace sneaker sales anytime soon. As Cohen noted, “While parents prioritize footwear, kids choose it based on brand, color, style, and overall lifestyle, especially when it comes to athletic footwear… athletic shoes are worn for every season and all occasions, not just for gym class and the playground, which enhances the need, want, and demand for athletic footwear among kids.”