Footwear Cashes In On Casual

Trends rise and fall in the footwear business as they do in any market. As certain categories step up to the spotlight, others are whisked off stage — although they seldom disappear.

Is the skate-shoe explosion over? Hardly. Skate-shoe companies have built a foundation in the casual-footwear business that won’t be shaken.

However, there’s a growing group of surfers and skateboarders who have grown weary of the super-tech skate shoe. This segment is looking for an alternative — a casual alternative — and many footwear manufacturers feel they can fill that void.

“We’ve got to reclaim what surf is,” says Reef Guys’ Category Manager Jason Olden. “I don’t want to make the kid who buys our sandals go to Nordstrom and buy shoes. Why can’t give him everything he needs?”

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But that’s just one of the issues facing the footwear market in the surf/skate business. The race to gain market share in the lucrative juniors’ segment of the leisure footwear biz is heating up. Companies are also aggressively targeting the under-twelve crowd, hoping to build brand allegiance and lifelong customers.

The Lifestyle Factor

Skate-shoe manufacturers know that skate shoes will not be the pinnacle of cool forever. In fact, many manufacturers are already seeing interest in technical skate shoes beginning to wane. As a result, companies are diversifying.

Footwear makers are leaning toward casual, lifestyle-driven footwear — an area first tackled in the action-sports realm by Burton-backed Gravis. Some of the models are skate-inspired, some tip their hat to old-school joggers, others cue off of those suede-happy Wallabees. All tend to incorporate narrower lasts, less bulk, organic materials, cleaner lines, and smaller logo placements.

“Shoes with all the bells and whistles are still important, but not as important as they were a few years ago,” says DVS President Kevin Dunlap. “There’s still a huge market for them, it’s just that the market’s getting so big and diverse that you need to touch every area and customer. We see a large part of that market being interested in more traditional skate shoes.”

DVS is one of many skate-shoe companies to capitalize on the movement toward low-key footwear. Etnies, DC, and Globe continue to increase their alternative-footwear programs. Additionally, Podium Distribution, which handles DVS and Lakai footwear, is backing a new brand of lifestyle footwear called Clae (say “Clay”). Founded by former DC Designer Sung Choi, Clae will introduce at least five models for back-to-school that range from sporty to casual — all built on sleeker lasts and incorporating higher-end materials.

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But it’s not just the skate-shoe companies that are on the lifestyle- footwear tip. Reef, Sanük, and Gravis also see big opportunities in the category.

Reef, which struggled in the domestic skate-shoe market, has revamped its closed-toe footwear offering. For Spring 2002 it will introduce shoes in three “silos”: Core, Fundamentals, and Progressive. The look runs the gamut from skate-inspired sneakers to suede moccasins.

“Our mission,” says Reef Cofounder Fernando Aguerre, “cannot be to satisfy only a group of people in a certain area because our company business model is established all over the world. If we only put water in two pots and we have ten pots, eight plants are going to die.”

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Sanük is also jumping on the casual-footwear trend. At the San Diego ASR this fall, Sanük showed buyers its first closed-toe model, Chill, a sheepskin-lined suede boot (not an Ugg!). This spring, the brand will introduce four more shoes for men — including one designed by teamrider Shane Dorian — and three styles for girls.

Manufacturers are targeting pricepoints for this category between 60 and 80 dollars (the range for shoes spans from 50 to 120 dollars retail). “There’re a lot of people who buy shoes for as high as 200 bucks, but not millions of Y-generation board enusiasts,” says Aguerre. Expect to see higher prices for these new casual offerings than skate shoes due to the heavy use of natural materials like suede and leather.

According to most manufacturers, the new lifestyle footwear will not compromise skate-shoe sales. Instead, it’s opening a new category and bringing in more dollars to retailers’ footwear departments. Surfers who would’ve previously gone elsewhere to buy casual shoes will now find them at surf shops.

However some companies say the new footwear could cost them skate-shoe revenue. “It may compromise skate-shoe sales a bit since many kids use skate shoes as their lifestyle footwear choice,” says Etnies Director Of Marketing Yasemin Oktay. “But this category will give consumers a style alternative for footwear that allows them to represent their favorite skate-shoe brand instead of sporting other lifestyle brands.”

The new category also allows manufacturers to tweak their distribution models. Casual footwear allows ‘core skate-shoe companies to reach out to the surf market, and it gives both surf- and skate-oriented footwear companies the opportunity to tap into specialty boutiques. However, most companies hope the added category will allow them to grow within their current distribution model. “Our strategy is not to widen distribution,” says Reef Marketing Director Jeff Cutler, “but it’s to build the product mix within the account.”

Juniors’ Footwear

It’s no secret: Girls buy shoes. Lots of them. And many footwear companies are cashing in.

“It’s pretty well known that women probably buy four or five times the amount of shoes that guys do,” says Gravis Marketing Director Michael Shay. “We recognize women’s footwear is a key opportunity for Gravis.” For Spring 2002, Gravis is offering seventeen styles of women’s specific shoes and sandals.

Other companies are seizing the opportunity in the women’s footwear market. Last summer Osiris launched Copia, a new line of women’s shoes and apparel. Rather than going after the ‘core girls’ skate crowd, the line is lifestyle-driven with an urban feel. Copia’s headquarters are in the heart of downtown San Diego.

“A lot of girls who were wearing our industry’s clothing weren’t wearing shoes from our industry,” says Copia Creative Director Stacy Dye, who’s worked for both Burton and Alphanumeric. “They’re wearing Puma, Saucony, Nike, and Diesel. Those girls need to be buying shoes at skate shops because they’re buying their clothes there.”

Copia, which is the name of the Italian goddess of wealth and plenty, will ship its first line this February. There are six footwear styles its initial launch, including one pair of stylish thongs, and a full line of apparel.

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Etnies, DC, Roxy, and Gallaz are offering more girls’ styles in more colorways. Other companies like DVS offer men’s styles in “women friendly” colorways. Etnies has thirteen styles of shoes and sandals for girls. Roxy has 43 styles of footwear, which is three times the size of its offering two years ago.

Is the girls’ market getting too crowded? No, says Heidi Draper, vice president of Roxy accessories, footwear, and swim. “It’s a huge market,” she says. “It’s moving really fast, and there’s a lot of growth. There’s a lot of competition in price, and the retailers seem to be designating a lot more space to shoes than they used to.”

Key pricepoints are similar to guys’ footwear: 55 to 75 dollars. However, manufacturers note that while girls are price-sensitive, they’ll buy the shoe at any cost if it’s a must-have style. “Girls are definitely price conscious,” says Peery. “They’d rather buy two pairs of shoes than one, but if girls really want something, they’ll pay the price — whatever it may be.”

Kid’s Footwear

According to American Sports Data, skateboarding was the second-fastest growing sport in the United States in 2000, up 49.2 percent to 11.6-million participants. Surfing participation grew 25 percent last year, to nearly 2.2-million participants.

Kids make up a big chunk of these surf and skateboard newcomers, and in response to this spike in participation, footwear companies are making more shoes for the primary-school crowd. “Kids need shoes, too,” says Etnies’ Oktay. “Kids are getting involved in skateboarding and other action sports at such a young age, why wouldn’t they have the same needs as the older skateboarders?” Footwear companies’ move into the kids’ footwear market isn’t just a service-oriented mission. For many companies, the goal is to build brand allegiance.

“The opportunity in kids’ footwear is to get the kid when he’s young and have him as a DVS customer for his lifetime,” says DVS’ Dunlap.

Kids are acutely aware of brand image, and they gravitate toward companies that represent their lifestyle. They’re also not afraid to call bullshit. “My kids are only five, and for the last year and a half they’ve been saying what is cool and what is not cool,” says Reef’s Aguerre.

The opportunity in kids’ footwear is big — even if the margins aren’t. Aguerre says that even with 30-percent margins (compared to 50 percent with adult-sized shoes), it’s still worth having a kids’ footwear program, citing brand-building opportunities and the chance to bring in dollars that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Kids’ footwear also opens additional distribution opportunities. “The kids’ category has allowed us to open some other kids-only dealers, as well as expand our product mix with our current distribution outlets,” says Oktay. However, Oktay adds that growth is limited because mainstream footwear manufacturers can offer better pricepoints.

Carpe Diem

Through the new movement in lifestyle footwear, a booming juniors’ footwear business, and a strong potential in kids’ footwear, shoe manufacturers are giving retailers the opportunity to expand their footwear departments and open new categories.

Manufacturers are encouraging retailers to take a chance with the new categories. “These guys need to know that people come to their stores to get things that are new and different,” says Sanük’s Kelley. “They don’t go to their store and buy something they can get at WalMart and Target. They need to think outside the box; they need to be looking at trying to start momentum for new items — not commit everything they’ve gotten to a new item, but help start the momentum of the new item with brands that they know protect their distribution.”r, to nearly 2.2-million participants.

Kids make up a big chunk of these surf and skateboard newcomers, and in response to this spike in participation, footwear companies are making more shoes for the primary-school crowd. “Kids need shoes, too,” says Etnies’ Oktay. “Kids are getting involved in skateboarding and other action sports at such a young age, why wouldn’t they have the same needs as the older skateboarders?” Footwear companies’ move into the kids’ footwear market isn’t just a service-oriented mission. For many companies, the goal is to build brand allegiance.

“The opportunity in kids’ footwear is to get the kid when he’s young and have him as a DVS customer for his lifetime,” says DVS’ Dunlap.

Kids are acutely aware of brand image, and they gravitate toward companies that represent their lifestyle. They’re also not afraid to call bullshit. “My kids are only five, and for the last year and a half they’ve been saying what is cool and what is not cool,” says Reef’s Aguerre.

The opportunity in kids’ footwear is big — even if the margins aren’t. Aguerre says that even with 30-percent margins (compared to 50 percent with adult-sized shoes), it’s still worth having a kids’ footwear program, citing brand-building opportunities and the chance to bring in dollars that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Kids’ footwear also opens additional distribution opportunities. “The kids’ category has allowed us to open some other kids-only dealers, as well as expand our product mix with our current distribution outlets,” says Oktay. However, Oktay adds that growth is limited because mainstream footwear manufacturers can offer better pricepoints.

Carpe Diem

Through the new movement in lifestyle footwear, a booming juniors’ footwear business, and a strong potential in kids’ footwear, shoe manufacturers are giving retailers the opportunity to expand their footwear departments and open new categories.

Manufacturers are encouraging retailers to take a chance with the new categories. “These guys need to know that people come to their stores to get things that are new and different,” says Sanük’s Kelley. “They don’t go to their store and buy something they can get at WalMart and Target. They need to think outside the box; they need to be looking at trying to start momentum for new items — not commit everything they’ve gotten to a new item, but help start the momentum of the new item with brands that they know protect their distribution.”