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Women Are Ditching High Heels in Favor of Sneakers at a Rapid Pace

In a few short years, sneakers have progressed from a gym staple to an accessory fit for the royal wedding reception, and nowhere is this shift in attitudes more evident than in sales of women’s shoes.

In 2017, the women’s leisure sneaker category soared 37 percent to $2.3 billion in the U.S., outpacing the men’s and kids’ segments and leading the overall category to a high of $9.2 billion, according to The NPD Group Inc.’s Retail Tracking Service.

The surge in interest in athleisure has left other shoe silhouettes to languish, however: Sales of high heels (shoes with heels 3 inches or higher) fell 12 percent in the same period, relinquishing market share in the $12 billion dress, casual and evening shoe market. High heels now account for less than 20 percent of that market, down from more than half in 2011, according to NPD. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering recent trends, the research company found that flats, block and kitten heels were the growth drivers in 2017.

The trend shows few signs of abating, as offices around the country continue to relax their dress codes and shoppers spend more and more of their clothing budgets on activewear. NPD expects the upward trajectory of sneaker sales to continue in the double digits for the next few years, Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst for fashion footwear and accessories, told CNBC.

Meanwhile, sneaker brands are moving in on luxury labels’ real estate — literally — with new tony Fifth Avenue flagships and highly anticipated Met Gala debuts in New York.

As for who stands to benefit most from these changing preferences? It’ll likely be names you recognize: Nike and Adidas drove almost half the growth in women’s leisure sneakers, according to NPD.

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