Trends can often lead to some serious fashion faux pas (think Britney and Justin’s take on double denim); fortunately though, these hiccups are short lived in apparel and move on with the next trend. However, the moment where one questions “what was I thinking?” never seems to arrive when it comes to footwear. Regardless of what is presented on the catwalks, the ‘ugly’ shoe phenomenon remains, bolstering sales of what is often an extraordinarily comfortable product that severely lacks in aesthetic design. Crocs and Uggs, for example, universally acknowledged as unattractive shoes, reported net sales of 832 million US dollars and 2.0 billion US dollars in 2014, respectively. What can brands take from these highly successful, albeit unsightly, footwear trends?
Comfort trumps fashion
Summer 2015 saw the reappearance of Birkenstocks as a wardrobe staple; the footwear brand that has long provided grandmas the world over with appropriate summer sandals now has more fashion credentials than Kate Moss. Similarly, LL Bean duck boots have been renowned for selling out as the practical outdoor boot falls back into fashion. Widespread adoption of a particular product does not always stem from the activities of leading brands, but rather occur as a result of the cyclical nature of fashion.
Vintage trends and ironic hipster cohorts often take products that were once painfully unfashionable and make them ‘cool’, as seen with the resurgence of footwear brand Hush Puppies and alcoholic drinks such as Bourbon. While a nod from the fashion industry can propel a brand into the premier league, generating a spike in revenue, the majority of these footwear brands perform well year round, and what they all have in common is the ability to provide consumers with practical, comfortable footwear.
Ath-leisure’s roots in footwear
The over-arching macro trend of comfort has long been present in the footwear industry; however, in recent years, it seems to have become ever more prevalent with the proliferation of ath-leisure. Lily Allen was clearly ahead of her time in 2005 by pairing her Nike Air Max 90s with every outfit; in 2015, sneaker fever has reached an all-time high, as casual dressing takes on a new role in consumers’ lives. Yoga pants are now appropriate attire for a trip to Starbucks, and Fashion Week attendees have shunned skyscraper heels in favour of bunion-proof adidas Stan Smiths.
Sports-inspired footwear increased at a value CAGR of 7 percent over 2009-2014, while the overall footwear category increased at a CAGR of 6 percent over the same period. Additionally, an upsurge in performance-led products continues to drive growth, as consumers seek technically advanced products for their everyday activities as well as sports participation. The functionality and comfort of sports footwear is both desirable and on trend; this is particularly true for running shoes. The Nike Roshe collection is now the fashionistas version of the Ugg.
Instagram dictates fashion
As the industry evolves with the digital age, social media platforms are not only considered vital advertising tools but now dictate what is considered fashionable. The ‘ugly’ shoe trend highlights the power and lucrativeness of mass consumer trends, in comparison to the fads featured on the fashion catwalks. Images of off-duty models and celebrities wearing shoes such as Crocs, Uggs and Birkenstocks are no longer restricted to gossip magazines, but rather posted on social media by individuals themselves.
Platforms such as Instagram are filled with user-generated content and street style images that appear far more authentic than advertising campaigns and allow the user to dictate the narrative by detailing the benefits of wearing a particular product. Endorsement by high-profile celebrities will certainly generate a significant amount of brand exposure; however, beyond that, much of these brands’s commercial success is due to their unprecedented comfort level, which is something for footwear brands to keep in mind.
By: Bernadette Kissane, Apparel and Footwear Analyst at Euromonitor International
Image Credit: Crocs website, Ugg's website and Birkenstock AW15 campaign