FN Poll: Fresh Trends Critical

NEW YORK — Has fashion gone stale?

That question has been top of mind for shoe companies since the beginning of the year. Last month several companies, including Steven Madden Ltd. and Journeys parent Genesco Inc., lowered retail estimates as analysts cited a scarcity of innovation.

“We have come to the conclusion that big, all-encompassing new ideas are few and far between [in nonathletic categories],” Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser wrote in a report.

That outlook seems to be prevalent. Footwear News recently polled more than 100 industry insiders to get their take on trends and the state of the market for the remainder of the year. While a strong majority — 74 percent — said trends are becoming more important for drawing in customers, half of respondents also expressed concern about a dearth of fresh looks.

“It takes guts to be innovative from a brand’s standpoint, and unless innovation is in the blood of the brand and they have enough courage to try new things, they will fall back on the expected standard fare,” one participant noted. A retailer added, “It seems everything needs to fit into a tight little category to be understood, appreciated or tried.”

As for the biggest challenge of all, respondents were divided. Thirty-two percent chose consumer confidence as the No. 1 hurdle hampering business, while 21 percent bemoaned sourcing costs, 18 percent cited the aforementioned stagnant fashion cycle, 15 percent were worried about weather and 13 percent were unsure.

E-commerce was an issue for some brick-and-mortars. “One word: showrooming,” said a retailer. “And if we don’t have it, [customers] aren’t willing to wait if we can special order it. They will just go online.”

Even so, the general mood was bright, with more than half of those polled reporting a positive business outlook for fall ’14.

Sixty-two percent of respondents were optimistic that the footwear market will renew itself in the coming months with innovative looks.

Lug-sole styles got a vote of confidence, with 24 percent predicting the style will be the biggest women’s trend for fall. Ornate embellishments were next on the list, with 21 percent, followed by heavy metal hardware, creeper and flatform silhouettes, and mules. Twelve percent said the hottest look could be something other than those options.

What might help drive the trend-focused business going forward? Twenty-nine percent of the group said a new crop of designers could provide a sales boost, while 26 percent voted for more young customers, 24 percent selected lower price points and 14 percent chose more endorsements.