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Sneakers Kick Stilettos to the Curb As Shoppers Shun the High Heel

In news that can hardly be called shocking, retail data and analytics firm Edited reported that despite inventory levels trending up, sales of high-heeled shoes are down.

With athleisure taking over many women’s wardrobes and an increasingly casual attitude toward workplace attire, it’s no wonder high heels are falling out of favor. Plus, there’s growing awareness of how stilettos can destroy posture, bring on back problems and deform feet—all issues firmly at odds with the health and wellness craze.

“We’re all living increasingly active lives, with more travel and increased casualization across almost all social occasions,” said Katie Smith, retail analysis and insights director for Edited, which compared online inventory and sales data from 2017 and 2016 to home in on these footwear trends.  “The health and wellness lifestyle shift has encouraged more technical developments in footwear, as companies innovate to better suit the consumer shifts. Things like Nike’s ‘Flyknit’ and ‘energy return’ soles not only teach consumers to expect more from their footwear, but make it cool, too.”

Indeed, sneakers are doing gangbuster sales at the direct expense of the once mighty heel. Both athletic sneakers and sneakers for style ran circles around their heeled brethren; according to Edited, retailers and brands stocked 46.8% more athletic sneakers in 2017 versus the year prior, and they sold like hotcakes: 54 percent greater sellouts year over year. What’s more, new arrivals of fashion sneakers  jumped 62.4%, and 37.5% more sold through at full price. Total sneaker sellouts jumped by 38 percent, with a 36.6% increase year over year in styles available.

By contrast, it’s hard out there for a heel: sellouts dropped 13.4%, despite retailers increasing their inventory levels by 28 percent.

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Many of the biggest recent footwear trends that spring to mind feature flat soles: platform sneakers, men’s wear-inspired oxfords and brogues, the prim loafer, the open-backed mule (thank you, Gucci) and who can forget the Birkenstock comeback? Plus, a quick survey of street style finds just about every other pedestrian in Vans, Adidas throwbacks (or neo-throwbacks) and Nikes, especially among the high-school and college crowds. (Fun fact: Instagram posts mentioning Adidas’s popular Ultraboost shoe garner 20 percent greater engagement than the brand’s average post, according to L2.)

There’s a cultural and consumer transition underway. Shoppers are redefining style on more comfortable, sole-friendly terms.

“Over the years, women’s footwear has steadily shifted away from necessitating high heels in the office, to a greater acceptance of flats—even sneakers—at work,” Smith said. “When you also take into account the shift towards more technical aspects in footwear, and even Gen Z forming new identities around more complex and diverse notions of gender, it’s easy to see why heels are continuing to witness a steady decline.”

Even when women have to slip into a non-sneaker shoe, the evidence shows they’re reaching for the ballet flat or slipper instead, which are selling out 8.9% higher year over year.

And when they do decide to invest in non-flats, women are choosing a heel that doesn’t compromise comfort. Edited data discovered that the Day Heel from cult brand Everlane bucks the overall heels-on-decline trend.

The “stylish and comfortable” shoe—which features an elastic back and 2-inch block heel—has been replenished five times, and never discounted, since its debut in April 2017.