The landscape of sneaker culture and its women driven initiatives are still pretty grim but it is improving. For years the chatter and general make-up around sneakers was predominantly a boy’s club and in many ways it still is. Now women have become less of a spectator and more of a voice and view in the industry. According to data from The NPD Group Non-Performance Athletic inspired sneakers sales grew up to 33 percent for women in the 12 months up to April 2018. The data also shows that sneakers have been the top in footwear sales over the past 12 months.
More consumers specifically women are choosing comfort over spikey heeled pain. “Seasonal lines are blurring, and so are consumer attitudes and usage when it comes to footwear. As leisure footwear continues to grow, the fashion-focused players need to take the cues that comfort is not an added benefit anymore; it is a necessity for consumers regardless of the season,” said Beth Goldstein Executive Director, fashion footwear and accessories analyst for The NPD Group.As the tide changes ideally the industry would too. It is a slow but moving vehicle to bring women into the narrative of sneaker design but it is happening.
Puma naming Rihanna their Creative Director of their women’s collection lead to a 92% spike in net income for the quarter in 2017. Female buying power was quantified with her collections and Puma became a major player in sneaker footwear for women exceeding its athletic counter parts. Adidas created a 5 year plan to change their visual efforts and started tailoring their images to feature women from different fields, not just athletes. Nicole Vollebregt is Adidas first head of global women’s business and her focus was on the female consumer and what she needs. “My team is tasked with championing the versatile female athlete throughout the organization. We work with all the other business units to make sure that we’re delivering products and experiences that she wants,” says Vollebregt in an article to Fast Company.
The true champion of sneakers specifically for women is a relative decision. The leading spot shifts with every new sneaker drop and collaboration but the space to play in is still so new and extremely needed. Female sneaker heads are still plagued with silhouettes that are sometimes odd and take after the “feminization” of sneakers which is generally referred to as pink and patronizing.
A big push however to improve this is coming from Nike. They set up their new initiative in four different facets. The first one being size inclusivity. Historically colorways and sneaker drops specifically for men aren’t always offered in kids sizes which was the alternative option for women with smaller feet. Nike chose to change this and offered their sneaker drops with a more unisex approach. Notably they did this with Virgil Abloh’s collection ‘The Ten’ which is arguably one of Nike’s best collaborations in recent years.
Nike Unlaced was created as a specialized an intimate shopping experience dedicated to women. The global digital and retail concept also features curations by global and national influencers. Ramping up on their services came into play as well. VIP amenities like same day shipping, personalized styling and one-on-one appointments with guest stylists are all a part of the new program. Goldstein notes “Consumers’ priorities have shifted. They are more time-starved, and therefore demand that shopping be easy and entertaining, both in-store and online. With increasing competition and direct-to-consumer distribution becoming more of a focus for both existing brands and start-ups, today’s retail environment makes differentiation even more critical than before.”
The most important of Nike’s initiatives is their emphasis on sneaker partnerships with women. They’ve rolled out collaborations over the past few years but really upped the ante with ‘The 1 Reimagined’ Project that was done by a 14-strong female design collective. Jordan brand also made history by teaming up with Vogue to release the first collection of women’s only Jordan’s.
The steps taken by the leading athletic and apparel brands is commendable but there is still a long way to go. Highlighting female voices with a unique point of view and ideas to shift the make-up of conversations around sneakers is vital. As women become a growing voices, designers and executives in the sneaker industry and the culture itself now more than ever we have to look to the future of retail and what our consumer experiences should look like. The future for the sneaker industry is female.