Men are stepping up their footwear game. The NPD Group reported this week that the U.S. men’s footwear market grew 8 percent over the past two years—double the growth rate of women’s footwear during the same period.
The NPD Group chief analyst Marshal Cohen said much of the success the men’s market experienced is due to the fact that men are becoming more interested in style and trends. He added, “This is apparent by the growth of items such as fashion boots, drivers, sneakers, and oxfords in various new materials and colors, which correlates with the growth of the men’s apparel and accessories markets.”
Allen Edmonds CEO and president Paul Grangaard agreed. “Over the last few years men have decided to take their game up a couple of levels and present themselves in a more appropriate and more fashionable way, even in their casual lives,” he said, adding that, “Men have come to think of shoes as a statement of individuality and are not just looking for the basics. I think they want a something that stands out a little more and plays against the clothing that they wear.”
For the 92-year-old heritage company, men’s renewed interest in color, textures and new silhouettes has been a welcomed opportunity to grow and explore outside of its black and brown shoe comfort zone. Grandgaard said colors have become a “big deal,” especially varying shades of brown that offset intricate brogue and wingtip details.
Details have always been important to Harbor Footwear Group, makers of Giorgio Brutini, GBX, Bass & Co., Izod and most recently Marc Ecko Cut & Sew footwear. Vice president of marketing, Barry Specht, said, “We’ve always been good with design and sourcing. Color and textures are the things that distinguishes our shoes and are the qualities retailers are looking for.” And according to Specht, more amounts of it, as of late.
During the recent string of footwear shows, Specht said retailers appeared to be more confident with new options. While Bass has had a steady business with its colorful saddles and bucks in the last few seasons, Specht noted that its new canvas and linen constructions for men performed well. Boots continue to be a big story for GBX. “Boots have made up the majority of our fall line for the last several years and that is going to continue for this fall,” he added.
Boots have been a surprising success story for Allen Edmonds. Grangaard said the brand didn’t see interest in the silhouette for ages, however, on a whim it added a dress boot to its range three years ago and it has become a top-seller during Fall/Winter seasons. “We haven’t seen that in decades,” Grangaard noted.
Men’s ever-changing footwear tastes have kept designers guessing, including Carlo Pazolini. While the brand carries a full range of footwear staples, COO Amanda Pinelli said the majority of its clientele look to the brand for styles influenced directly by European trends.
Casual cool loafers, in particular, have been driving the brand’s men’s business. Pinelli added, “Loafers have held the top spot for a number of seasons now, mainly because they’re a great shoe to show off color and texture and we offer a lot of options.” Plus, the silhouette toes the line between casual and dress—a hybrid look that Pinelli said has trickled down from fashion. “You see men wearing loafers and even sneakers with well-tailored suits,” she said, adding that in general, Millennial-aged men are more open to non-traditional ways of dressing.
The same could be said about Baby Boomers. As Grandgaard noted, “No man in his mid-50s wants to think of himself as a man in his fifties, especially on weekends.” He added, “Men are trying to stay fresh in their appearance for much longer in their lives.”
Parallel to Boomers’ youthful approach to dressing is the Millennial generation’s newly-found appreciation for comfort footwear. No matter the man’s age in question, Specht said, “He wants immediate satisfaction. No matter what the shoe looks like, they have to fit right and feel good.” Giorgio Brutini added a comfort memory-tech insole to its assortment; likewise Bass has added a memory insole to its Spring ’14 collection. Specht said Harbor Group will likely expand its comfort features across its lines.
Much has been said online and on style blogs about the uber-casual Normcore movement toward men wearing Birkenstock-style sandals and Teva-inspired footwear, on the professional front, and Grandgaard sees Millennials sharpening up their look and investing more in their clothing and footwear—and with that, developing brand loyalty.
According to NPD, men are more likely to say they are “willing to spend more money for a brand name they trust” than “willing to try new or less-known footwear brands.” While the report found that men’s preference for casual/dress footwear brands was fragmented (Nike, New Balance and Adidas were named the top three men’s footwear brands for awareness and ownership), Grandgaard said there is a big opportunity for casual/dress brands to foster brand affiliation.
Grandgaard explained, “Not only are men spending a little more on themselves, I think the youngest consumers are even more committed to finding authenticity and care about where products are made.” As the offshoring of shoes over the years led to significant decreases in quality, he said, “People are recognizing that you get what you pay for and if you spend a little more on shoes, they will last longer.”
While footwear brands expect men to continue their affinity for footwear—whether its a $100 pair of loafers or $300 pair of boots—in future seasons, Pinelli warns, “As men take more fashion risks and are more creative with their look, we have to be ready with the fashion styles that meet their requests.”