Nearly everyone has gotten in on the white sneaker action, from traditional labels like Adidas, Reebok and K-Swiss to fashion players Gucci and Balenciaga.
It’s been a constantly growing force in the footwear industry, with sales increasing on a month-by-month basis, according to Christopher Peduto, head of menswear merchandising for Asos.com. So the question becomes, when will this surge stop, if ever?
When speaking with retailers and brands from around the industry about the resurgence of basic white kicks, many emphasized one thing: You can’t separate a trend from its context. For white sneakers, the context is this: In recent ready-to-wear collections across the market, bold colors and patterns were at the center of nearly every design. And influencers, of late, have been drawn to streetwear styles with eccentric mixes of materials and color.
That’s where white sneakers have come in. “[White sneakers] complement every outfit, and the increased acceptance of color in apparel today supports a clean footwear look,” explained Andrew Gray, GM and chief merchandising officer for Foot Locker in North America.
A 1980s and ’90s fashion revival has also paved the way for the return of retro white styles, such as the Reebok Classic Leather and the Fila Disruptor II. The Fila style was actually the No. 2 hottest women’s product in the second quarter of 2018, according to fashion search platform Lyst.
But Stephanie Muehlhausen, women’s accessories fashion director for Macy’s, noted that white sneakers have transcended their classic concept and have gone “beyond being paired with athleisure and denim looks. … The more fashion-forward consumer is wearing this trend in unexpected ways.”
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For brands, that means they must stay ahead of the curve. Take Fila. It introduced the Original Fitness in 1987 and the Disruptor in 1996, and those early silhouettes are again hot commodities for every twentysomething and his or her mother. But Louis W. Colon III, Fila’s VP of heritage and trend, is not sitting still. “[The classics] are still in that range of throwbacks, but we are now updating that throwback shoe to the current trends and moving the brand forward,” he said. “You have to be proactive, not reactive.”
As with most things in fashion, the white sneaker trend is evolving. Barney Waters, K-Swiss president, told FN: “We see continued momentum for retro-athletic and classics, which are often in white, but I don’t think it’s color driven necessarily as much as it is silhouette driven.” He pointed out that consumers now desire three things from a shoe: chunky, simple and authentic. A classic white kick could tick off all those boxes, but so do many other sneakers these days.
Overall, industry experts predict that this heightened insistence on white sneakers is already on its way toward calming down and will level off by this time next year.
But it won’t entirely lose its place in the fashion universe. Peduto explained that “the white sneaker has become a staple piece in every man’s wardrobe, so the demand will always be there.”
Consumers will want their white shoes to remain white, which is good news for retailers like Macy’s. According to Macy’s men’s fashion director, Durand Guion, “The nature of white sneakers getting soiled [means] they have to be replaced, which will keep the trend moving forward — at least until trends become dressier again.”