The dog days of summer find us dealing with some major hurdles. Sluggish business. Global unrest. Consolidation and omnichannel ramifications.
If the summer of 2014 goes down in the history books as a particularly difficult one, I would argue that many of the challenges reflect needed adjustments for better days to come. Both the wholesale and retail markets are currently digesting some huge, some say revolutionary, changes, while the vagaries of weather, consumer sentiment and global instability continue to alter the short-term playing field.
Many people have complained that the shoe business has been hurt by a lack of must-have trends this summer. I would argue there are bigger issues to focus on, ones that are reshaping the landscape.
In fact, many of the over-the-top women’s looks that prevailed at the mid- and higher end of the market did need to be tempered, and perhaps the move away from the showstopper platforms and blinged- out pumps led to a certain homogeny that deflated sales. But the real truth is that the shoe fascination that gripped the world in the post-“Sex and the City” era is still very much alive. In reality, it has grown to include a wider and potentially more profitable group of shoppers that weren’t even born during the show’s heyday.
If there has been a slight cooling of the red-hot women’s market, there are strong moves afoot in other areas that are helping propel industry sales in general. This is particularly true for those playing in the athletic, ath-leisure and men’s markets, and there is also a strong sales story in the comfort and children’s businesses.
For the most part, that growth heralds a set of large and influential societal trends that offer enormous opportunity for those positioned to take advantage of them.
TEEN TIME The power of youth has never been more evident. I know a number of big fashion leaders who make it a point to follow certain stylish teens on Instagram and get a bird’s-eye view of what this influential and highly motivated group thinks. Armed with credit cards, social media access and prowess, and above all, attitude, these wise-beyond-their-years kids will be key to our future. The trickle-up theory is very much in evidence with this influential demographic around the world, as these teens influence their parents’ buying decisions. And it isn’t just girls. Young boys, freed from old restraints, are now pushing the boundaries of fashion, and that is an excellent sign of things to come.
GENDER GAP While the young spenders influence the direction of the market, they also embrace a much more relaxed idea of masculine and feminine ideals and rules. If you look at what’s clicking in the shoe world, it all comes down to accessible and definitionless footwear. From Vans to Birkenstock, Toms to Converse, the biggest brand stories cut across gender to appeal to the widest demographic possible. The success translates up and down the age scale and proves that in the casual sense, men and women want much of the same thing.
WORLDLINESS A number of big trips this summer confirmed the ideas shared above. I was also struck by how many children were traveling alongside me. Despite an unsettling amount of economic anxiety and global instability, modern families now view a vacation as an important source of education and entertainment. While this has clearly impacted retail — as they spend more money on experiences and lifetime memories — it has also dramatically increased global brand awareness and trend saturation.
CLICKING ALONG That heightened worldliness has also boosted the importance of e-commerce and online branding. But it is frustrating to see how some traditional retailers still struggle to integrate the two sides of their businesses. The customer has no interest in understanding back-office complexities and old school separation of bricks-and-mortar and online offerings. They want product that is easy to see and easy to buy. Just look at the success of two models for clarity: the curated, edited and elegant Net-a-Porter for creating an online experience many said couldn’t be delivered, and the “you can buy anything in one place at a competitive price and have it instantly delivered” dominator model courtesy of Amazon.
INSTANT IMAGING Despite the online revolution, many brands have yet to find the right social media formula. That makes sense considering that the playing field is ever-shifting. I worry about the senior executives who still don’t understand the tools and the options available to them. Too many in our industry are following an old school marketing approach that is bound to disappoint. Traditional marketing still has a powerful place in the promotional arsenal, but it now needs to be supported with strategic viral plays, which will help cut through this saturated, media-fractured world.
TALENT SHOW A discussion of macro trends would not be complete without addressing the industry’s view of talent. I have said this before, and I will say it again: The best design talents in this industry are coming out of Europe. The fact that the American shoe business does so little to foster real design stars is frustrating and shortsighted. The excitement generated by a handful of talents can change the market. Why we aren’t investing in talent, building big design stars and embracing the ones that are trying to survive is beyond me. Every fashion trend, every hot item, every great brand and every sale comes down to design and execution — this summer and all the ones to come.