The year was 2009 and in the midst of the Great Recession, footwear brands chose to revert to the classics, instead of taking risks with new silhouettes. From Converse touting their Chuck Taylor All Stars to Frye promoting its beloved Campus boot, what was old was new again. Footwear brands used the words ‘heritage’ and ‘authentic’ interchangeably as a way to bring new life to their stalwart silhouettes. And value-minded consumers ate it up, hungry to invest in long-lasting, high-quality shoes.
That demand for authentic styles from legacy brands has not waned, as proven by the bestselling styles named by the work brands below. Today’s heritage consumer (yes, heritage is a footwear category now) is just savvier, wishing to take their gritty shoes from work to weekend adventures, and far into the warmest months of the year. Here, Harley-Davidson, Keen and Wolverine, reveal their bestselling styles for Spring ’15, confirming that some things, like quality craftsmanship and original designs, never go out of style.
Spring ’15 has been an exciting season for Harley-Davidson Footwear. The heritage label focused on merging fan-favorite styles with a solid base of authentic motorcycle silhouettes, while expanding both its dealer-exclusives and lifestyle collection with a broader range of fashion-forward leather colors, textures and finishes. The result is a line of fashion footwear gaining traction with a new crop of consumers.
In particular, Jenna Ludeman, Harley-Davidson Footwear marketing specialist, said buyers responded well to the men’s Sawyer and women’s Violet—both styles outfitted with distressed, supple leather in muted colors and updated modern hardware. Ludemen said, “For the past couple of seasons, footwear trends have been blending heritage and modern silhouettes. We are seeing more buyers drawn towards classic silhouettes and heritage-inspired designs highlighted with modern twists, be that in the details or the leathers.” She added, “Motorcycle boots have been a very steady footwear trend for several seasons and buyers look to Harley-Davidson Footwear for authentic styles that provide the consumer an edgy and on trend look with a modern flare.”
Still, without one standout or singular trend, Ludeman said designers and brands have had the flexibility to develop more robust collections that can appeal to an array of customers. “Instead of focusing on one idea, it opens the doors for creativity and allows brands to expand line offerings. This openness when it comes to trends allows us as a brand to stay true to our motorcycle-inspired roots while expanding our lifestyle collection to include an array of styles and silhouettes including heels, slippers, sandals, sneakers, and more heritage-driven boots for men and women,” she explained.
That freestyle-approach to design has trickled into buyers’ assortments. Ludeman added, “Instead of a standout singular trend, we have seen buyers in recent years more interested in variety and the blending of trends, and telling a broader style story to their customers.”
In the work category, the lack of a singular demand allows designers to develop entire collections that appeal to a range of aesthetics and consumers, Keen Utility brand director Mark Reilly said. “Instead of pigeonholed into one idea, it opens the doors for creativity and allows brands to expand line offerings while still staying true to the brand’s identity,” Reilly explained.
In the work category, this openness has offered Keen Utility an opportunity to bring its unique toe-bumper design and outdoor-inspired silhouettes to men and women workers across the country. Reilly said, “It provides us with the flexibility to continue to innovate and create while still delivering a superior work boot.” Overall, the season was positive for Keen. Customers continued to look for versatile work footwear, including new color combinations, materials and style details that can transition from workday to the weekend.
Reilly noted that the demand for versatility in design and functionality in performance allowed the brand to create new silhouettes while maintaining a focus on the protective and comfort features that are essential to today’s workers.
One shoe that fits that bill—and a bestseller—is Keen’s men’s Braddock, a full-featured work boot made with supple, nubuck leather. Equipped with a Keen.Dry waterproof breathable membrane, asymmetrical steal toes and oil and slip-resistant rubber outsoles that satisfies Mark II non-slip testing standards, Reilly said the shoe offers lightweight protection without sacrificing safety. The shoe also takes the wearer’s comfort up a level with a unique PU-injected midsoles.
As part of Keen’s American Build collection made in Portland, Ore., Reilly said the Braddock has appealed to buyers for a variety of reasons. “In the safety and work footwear category, performance and comfort are paramount. The American Built story combined with an outdoor-inspired silhouette position the Braddock very well for customers who want a high quality American built product that offers the best in comfort, fit and performance.”
Few footwear brands know the power of American-made footwear as well as the heritage company Wolverine, which has been making boots in Michigan since 1914. And staying true to its roots, the company’s Wolverine 1000 Mile and Wolverine No. 1883 design teams focused on the classics, instead of chasing next season’s trends.
Katie Reichart, Wolverine Heritage key account manager, said, “For us, it is a good thing, because we have been making shoes since 1883, so we like to stick to what we know, which is making good shoes that stand the test of time.”
Still, Reichart noted that retailers are looking for newness to diversify their stores, which is why Spring ’15 proved to be a good time for the company to introduce more shoe silhouettes to its typically boot-heavy collections. For Spring ’15 Wolverine rallied behind lighter footwear—oxfords and chukkas with a more casual feel—and silhouettes that can be paired with shorts.
As Reichart explained, “Our buyers want to sell our brand year round, so they are open to new silhouettes from us as long as they have with Wolverine DNA at the core of the design. Retailers sell our boots well in the fall, so they want to bring in something to continue the momentum in the spring.”
While the shoes are less equestrian and work-inspired than in the past, Wolverine retained its DNA through its leathers, which continue to be one its trademark qualities. The company introduced more soft leathers in Wolverine 1000 Mile, while Wolverine No. 1883 as refreshed with a bounty of rich leathers.