Footwear Industry Looks Back on the Decade

What do you remember most about the last 10 years? Footwear News rounded up some of the industry’s power players to weigh in on the highlights of the decade, including the greatest shoe styles. From the rise of social networking and celebrity influence to wellness footwear and the longevity of Ugg, this has been a decade with plenty to discuss.

Scott Savitz
CEO, Shoebuy.com

Highlights of the decade?
“Next month is our 10-year anniversary. In January 2000, we launched the Shoebuy Website, so that was a milestone for us. We are [now] one of the largest players on the Internet so [the Web] is obviously very important to us and our business, but the behavioral shift we’ve seen in the last decade has been amazing and probably well exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Internet has been a fun new medium, but it has also been extremely complementary. People like to shop in a lot of different ways.”

Low points?
“It has been a very telling year and telling decade in terms of separating businesses that are creating value. It too has been a decade [when] you had to be flexible and you had to be adaptable and you had to be focused on the customer. If you lose site of the customer, you lose business.”

Biggest footwear trends?
“Comfort and fashion together; people are realizing that you don’t have to be in pain to look good. People are taking much more control of health and how they feel — Skechers’ Shape-Ups, Fit Flops, Reebok Easy Tones. [I’ve] also seen celebrity-inspired product a lot in the last four or five years, brands like Carlos by Carlos Santana, Jessica Simpson and Fergie.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“To be totally customer-centric and be analytical and keep listening to the customer. That has been 100 percent key for our business. If anything, we’ve learned that obsessive compulsiveness toward the customer is not as crazy as it sounds and is absolutely a key differentiation. You really just have to trust your instincts.”

Jack Minuk
EVP and GMM of shoe division, Nordstrom Inc.

Highlights of the decade?
“We opened 45 new Nordstrom stores and 44 new Nordstrom Rack stores, and acquired two Jeffrey stores. In technology, [it’s] how the Internet, e-commerce and social networking have all helped us get closer to the customer. Also, we gained a bigger presence in the designer market with significant growth over the past five years.”
 
Low points?
“Sept. 11, 2001 … the 2007-2008 economic troubles … The decline of the footwear manufacturing industry in Italy that operates mainly outside the designer segment.”
 
Biggest footwear trends?
“Celebrities’ influence on the consumer and the demand they create based on who they wear. … Ugg Australia, a truly definitive product that has sustained growth like no other this past decade.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“Competition is fierce and the landscape is constantly changing as new players emerge. You have to always be on your game.”

Danny Wasserman
Owner, Tip Top Shoes, New York

Highlights of the decade?
“People are becoming more aware of their surroundings and what the earth needs to survive. We’ve become more educated. Realizing that using spray cans and recycling is not just something that people do, it’s something that helps the environment in the long-term. That’s a big thing. [Also] Facebook and Twitter, the ability to reach consumers and friends immediately.”

Low points?
“The security issue of getting on a plane — that was a huge happening. And the economy fall down, the crash and the economy that we’re in right now and the weakness of the dollar make it much harder to deliver value to the consumer.”

Biggest footwear trends?
“Flip-flops became a big trend in the last 10 years, and Ugg, of course. Hunter rain boots and [the] resurgence of boat shoes. Merrell’s Jungle Moc created a whole new category of footwear. Recycling and sustainable use of materials to make footwear; the wellness MBT, Skechers’ Shape-Ups and the whole new category of wellness/fitness.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“One of the greatest lessons that proved itself is that less is more. In this economy, we became more profitable with less merchandise. Sometimes you don’t need to do as much business to be as profitable.”

Greg Tunney
President and CEO, R.G. Barry Corp.

Highlights of the decade?
“Watching the growth of new channels of distribution that never existed before. Look at the club business. Costco does in excess of $60 billion a year, [and] they were just getting started 10 years ago. [Then there’s[ the Web and Internet business. Ten years ago the experts were saying that the consumer would never buy more than 2 percent or 3 percent of their footwear needs over the Internet. It’s now heading close to triple that number … way to go Zappos.”

Low points?
“No low points.”

Biggest footwear trends?
“Unstructured, easy on, easy off, uninhibited; these drove the key trends in footwear. Look how big the flip-flop sandal business is today. Ten years ago, sandals were a three-month business, except on the West Coast and Florida. Today, consumers are wearing sandals year-round anywhere in the country. Add Sanuk with crossovers to the list as well.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“I am a linear thinker and have always focused on strategy, structure and financial capacity. The greatest lesson learned during the past few years is in regard to culture. In today’s business climate, it’s all about the culture of the company. Culture is the single biggest driver in an organization today.”

Ken Downing
SVP and fashion director, Neiman Marcus Inc.

Highlights of the decade?
“The statement-making shoe defined the decade. Overt, audacious, sexy and aggressive. They took a starring role on many runways.”

Low points?
“The recession challenged the business. Designers came back with newness and creativity that created desire that brought [consumers] back to shop.”

Biggest footwear trends?
“The excitement of the decade was the return of the platform that has transcended trend. It has become a constant in our shoe vocabulary and in a woman’s wardrobe.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“Newness is paramount. She wants what she does not have.”

Eileen Lewis
Director of fashion strategy, Zappos.com

Highlights of the decade?
“The highlight of the decade for Zappos was that we celebrated our 10th birthday and are now a decade old. We also accomplished two big goals … doing more than $1 billion in sales and debuting on Fortune magazine’s annual ‘100 best companies to work for’ list as this year’s highest-ranking newcomer.”

Low points?
“The low point of the decade was the state of the industry. It has been tough out there with the way the economy has been.”

Biggest footwear trends?
“The biggest footwear trend that we’ve seen endure is the use of embellishment and hardware in footwear. It seems to become more and more elaborate each season.”

Greatest lessons learned?
“Our greatest lesson learned was that the customer will spend money when they are inspired, despite the economy.”

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