Bread & Butter Buyers Seek the Unique

BERLIN — The mood among buyers and vendors at last week’s Bread & Butter was optimistic, though some were still cautious amid Europe’s continuing economic recovery efforts.

The echo of the financial crisis remains, “but [the economy] is getting better, slowly improving even in bad markets like Spain — though people are careful,” said Swedish Hasbeens CEO Patric Blixt.

Being a “category leader” in wooden-soled shoes has helped the Swedish clog company grow despite economic anxieties, with classic styles remaining popular in the industry, Blixt said.

Standing testament to that success was Hamburg boutique co-owner Dag Lübke, who was at the Swedish Hasbeens booth ordering shoes he described as “timeless” with a fashion-forward flair.

He typically stocks well-established brands such as Converse and Birkenstock at his store, Wohngeschwisterchen, which specializes in Scandinavian children’s goods and women’s wear. But like other retailers, he emphasized the need for unique details to entice customers.

“The main problem is online competition, so we try to find brands and models that aren’t necessarily available there,” Lübke said.

His quest for originality was shared by buyers like Mandy Lietzmann, who was selecting “classic styles with something special” from Portuguese shoemaker Nobrand for boutiques in the eastern German state of Brandenburg.

She was on the hunt for loafers and low boots for both men and women, leaning toward details including playful yet subtle variations in material and texture. “It’s hard to get customers in the stores because of online sales, so styles have to really knock us out,” she said.

One sign of economic recovery is a renewed focus on craftsmanship, said Jakob Fuglsang, founder of Denmark-based vendor Shoe the Bear.

“People are willing to pay more for better quality, whereas a few years ago [the decision to purchase] was price-based,” he said.

Regardless of which styles they sought, buyers agreed on one major requirement: comfort. “People don’t want to destroy their feet anymore,” Fuglsang said.

To that end, slip-ons made a strong showing at the trade fair, particularly for men’s shoes. Chunky, wearable heels and platform sandals with zigzag soles were also part of many women’s collections. For sneakers and loafers, muted metallics were big, as well as mixed textures and patterns such as flower motifs ranging from muted calico to exuberant tropical prints.

Changes are also in store for the Bread & Butter fair itself, with organizers announcing its return to Barcelona in January 2015. It will, however, be back in the German capital that summer, followed by the event’s first foray into the Asian market with a Seoul, South Korea, show a few months later in September.

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