U.S. independent footwear retailers came to the Micam show here last week on the hunt for European brands that would set them apart from their department store competition.
While some buyers said they found fresh looks, others left the fair disappointed.
Richard Kirshenbaum, founder and partner of Shoebox New York, said he was perplexed that many vendors were relying so heavily on boots again, when he had hoped there would be more diversity for fall ’11. “It was a boot show, not a shoe show,” said Kirshenbaum. “[The lack of choice] was a little nerve-wracking. The big decision was [not about which style to choose] but whether you wanted fur or no fur on the boots. People say [next season] is going to be about short boots and booties now, but I don’t know.”
Tarek Hassan, co-owner of The Tannery in Boston, agreed that few new trends emerged at the show, but since his current mix of brands and styles has been resonating with consumers, he was still optimistic. “Our business is growing, and there is a lot that’s working, so our strategy this fall is evolution, not revolution,” he said.
Hassan added that a lot of the excitement in the market is coming from U.S. brands that are at the center of the hot heritage trend, a shift from past seasons, when European styling ruled the fashion game.
While Kirshenbaum and Hassan have been attending Micam for many years, other independents were newcomers to the event.
Chris Bentvelzen, owner of San Francisco-based Shoes-n-Feet, said he came to Milan to branch out beyond his high-end comfort mix. “I’m looking to get into more fashion brands,” he said, “but this is definitely outside my comfort zone. I’m trying to understand which brands are safe to get into and which ones will give me the margins I need.”
Visiting the show for the second time, Jill Hathaway, owner of the J. Hathaway boutique in Leawood, Kan., said she was feeling a little more comfortable this time around. “Last year, it was about getting a feel for the market,” she said. “Now I’m placing more orders, but of course it all depends on the margins and exclusivity I can get.”
One brand Hathaway was buying at the show was Italian player Gardenia. “They use fabulous leathers and their craftsmanship is amazing,” she said.
Hathaway added that there was a lot to consider when it comes to buying product directly from Europe. Currency issues — the weak U.S. dollar is still a big concern — were top of mind, as well as other extra costs that come from shipping the product overseas. “You have to think about everything,” she said. “But our consumers are begging for uniqueness, so we need to be here.”
Meanwhile, major U.S. vendors, from Stuart Weitzman to Skechers, reported strong international business at the show.
Weitzman said he had seen retailers from every market and was writing brisk orders. “It’s a great show for us,” the designer said.
Micam organizers reported foreign attendance reached a record 19,588 visitors. All told, there were 38,812 attendees, a 6 percent increase over the March 2010 edition.