Comfort Brands Emphasize Wellness

Wellness is the new buzzword in comfort. While the category is well established in Europe and Asia, only recently have U.S. consumers been exposed to footwear that delivers more than just a feel-good experience. Today, it’s all about promoting good health and well-being. From MBT and SpringBoost shoes, which help improve muscle tone and posture, to Kushyfoot socks that offer an all-day massage, it’s easier than ever for consumers to feel healthy.

With a host of innovative wellness products priced anywhere from $6 for a pair of reflexology fl ip-fl ops to $300 for fitness walkers, retailers can take advantage of the opportunities to attract a new audience of health-minded consumers, as well as enhance the comfort experience of their core clientele. Brands are even tapping fitness experts to communicate the features and benefits of their products through in-store events and workout DVDs.

Here, in Footwear News’ debut Wellness section, is a roundup of the latest products and trends in the category.

Role Model

“Exercise as you please” is the philosophy behind a new line of biomechanical fitness footwear called No Gym Required. The line is being marketed as a partnership with health and fitness trainer Jennifer Cohen, whose new book, “No Gym Required,” is set for release this month, simultaneous with the shoe launch.

According to Cohen and NGR, the footwear offers wearers a workout without a trip to the gym, much like Cohen’s back-to-basics approach to training, which requires minimal equipment. Cohen said she decided to team up with NGR because the shoes fit with her simple exercise model.

The single women’s sneaker style, developed by a team of sports scientists in Korea, is touted as a two-in-one fitness footwear system that employs an interchangeable midsole technology. Worn with the regular midsole, made of lightweight EVA, the shoe is a typical athletic shoe. By using the weighted high-density rubber midsole, it offers resistance and a cardio workout.

To inform consumers about the NGR lifestyle, Cohen will act as the brand’s spokesperson and will be available for in-store presentations. The shoes, which are distributed in North America by Toronto-based Pilot House International, will retail for $149.

Rock & Roll

For fitness enthusiasts seeking to improve muscle tone and blood flow, there’s Korean brand Ryn. Developed in the late 1990s by Ryn Korea Inc., the line is now being distributed in the States by Avon, Mass.-based Ryn USA. Designed on a rocker outsole with a 45-degree heel angle, Ryn’s benefits are based on a three-step walking technique. In step one (the heel landing), the calf and thigh undergo a stretching effect. Step two (the sole landing) provides impact relief and a decentralizing effect, while step three (the toe landing) creates an inner thigh and muscle exercise. Other benefits touted by the company include posture and spine correction, improved blood circulation and arch support for fl at feet. The men’s and women’s collection of athletic, dress and casual styles is available for immediate delivery and retails from $250 to $300.

Work It Out

Original Dr. Scholl’s, based in St. Louis, is taking a relaxed approach to working out, with its new yoga mat-inspired series. The five-pattern collection, featuring lightweight EVA bottoms and the brand’s signature wood bottoms, incorporates a footbed that mimics the cushioning effects of a yoga mat. Even the style names — Nirvana, Henna, Lotus, Shanti and Asana — have an Eastern influence. Slated for a February delivery, the shoes will retail from $39 to $59.

Approval Rating

Danish clog maker Sanita has earned a new wellness status. The Temecula, Calif.-based company has been granted the American Podiatric Medical Association’s Seal of Acceptance for three of its collections: Wave, Original and Leisure. The seal recognizes products that are beneficial to foot health and that are of significant value when used in a consistent program of daily foot care and regular professional treatment.


Chain Reaction

Independent chain Comfort One Shoes, headquartered in Manassas, Va., has taken a wellness stand with the rollout of a new banner, Sports and Wellness Center, this past fall. President Maurice Breton converted one of the chain’s four locations in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle in order to focus on the emerging category. “We wanted to get ahead of the curve,” said Breton. “We see wellness as a mega-trend.” According to Breton, there are four yoga studios within a few blocks of the 1,850-sq.-ft. store. “The demographic is in exactly the right location,” he said. The store will focus on brands such as MBT, Cogent, Earth, SpringBoost, New Balance and Aetrex. Moving forward, Breton plans to add Z-Coil, No Gym Required and others.

A Leg Up

Montreal-based Kushyfoot, which offers socks, tights and toe covers with built-in reflexology-inspired soles, is expanding its product mix to include fl ip-fl ops and shoe cushions designed to mimic the features of its hosiery. The fl ip-fl ops, retailing for $6, have a ridged EVA footbed that massages and cushions the foot. For enhanced comfort, a pair of novelty Mitten socks with a compatible split toe ($4 at retail) can be added. These are available for immediate delivery. Kushyfoot is also offering its first shoe cushions, which incorporate a 3-D surface design that provides the same massaging qualities. Available in two-pair packages, retailing from $6 to $9, the cushions will hit stores this month.


In Training

Calorie-conscious consumers have a new way to trim down. Muscle Trainer, a Japan- based brand that claims its footwear can burn as much as 300 calories after only a 30-minute workout, is broadening its U.S. distribution to include comfort independents. Until now, the 10-year-old collection had been selling on a limited basis in the States through catalogs and the Internet.

Muscle Trainer’s patented shoe design features small metallic spheres sealed in a weight-balancing sole that promotes calorie burning and increased energy consumption. Designed to be worn while walking, running errands or simply doing housework, the men’s and women’s lace-up and Velcro-close styles weigh between 2.2 pounds and 3 pounds per shoe depending on the size. In addition, according to the company, data from the research unit of health engineering at Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences indicates that wearers exhibited a 25 percent increase in both heart rate and oxygen intake compared with ordinary walking, contributing to calorie burning. Available for immediate delivery through New York-based CCV Inc., the shoes retail for $150.

Down to Earth

Waltham, Mass.-based Earth Footwear has tapped international fitness expert Tracey Mallett to release a new exercise video, “The Weekday Workout,” that incorporates Earth’s casual shoes. According to the company, its negative heel technology can burn fat up to four times that of traditional footwear.

The claim is the result of a clinical study conducted for Earth by biomechanist Katy Santiago, who examined the whole-body effects of Earth shoes versus conventional footwear in the context of the daily “10,000 Steps” walking program created in Japan. The program suggests that as part of a healthy regimen, people should aim to record 10,000 steps, or roughly four miles of walking, each day.

Santiago’s study revealed that the slight incline of the footwear sets the wearer’s toes at a 3.7-degree angle relative to their heels, resulting in an overall strengthening and toning effect.

Mallett’s DVD will be available next month to registered users on Earth’s Website, Earthfootwear. com, and will be offered as a gift with purchase on the site.

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