Sorel Is Soaring — Here’s What It Says About the Women’s Outdoor Footwear Market

Sorel’s strong Q1 performance bolstered Columbia Sportswear Co.’s 8% net sales increase for the period, helping the firm rake in $654.6 million. And industry insiders believe the success sends a powerful message to the outdoor industry: If you make shoes for her, she will buy them.

“We’re seeing more and more brands making women’s-specific product and having success,” explained The NPG Group Inc.’s senior athletic industry adviser, Matt Powell. “This is a lesson to the industry here, to think about making products just for her and not taking men’s product and sizing it down.”

In its quarterly earnings results released yesterday, the firm stated Sorel experienced 28% net sales growth in Q1. (On the earnings conference call, president and CEO Tim Boyle identified the Kinetic sneaker line, and the Ella and Joanie sandal and wedge collections, as top performers.) The brand has seen double-digit growth for the past year, with consecutive gains of 12% and 11% growth in Q3 and Q4, respectively.

But Sorel isn’t the lone brand in the outdoor marketplace strengthening its focus on the female consumer as of late. Another standout, Merrell, released a women’s-specific hiker last year made with design influence from the organization Women Who Hike. And other top brands in the space, such as Timberland, have introduced lines and silhouettes unavailable to male counterparts.

As more brands are focusing on women, sales data is showing they’re responding. According to data provided by NPD’s retail tracking service, women’s outdoor footwear sales in the U.S. was up 4% in the 12-month period ending March 2019 to $1.2 billion. For the 12 months ending March 2018, the category saw a 2% increase to $1.12 billion.

But Sorel’s growth is outpacing the rest of the industry. Powell believes it’s because of its approach to both fashion and function, not one or the other.

“Their strength is derived from making cute shoes right now that are fashion but are also functional,” Powell said. “The consumer can justify paying a premium price for a fashion shoe because they know the shoe will also perform. Not taking performance out of the product so the shoes could still be worn in poor weather conditions adds a level of value to the consumer.”

And as far as Powell is concerned, the only thing that could get in Sorel’s way of continued growth is environmental.

“We had a perfect storm in 2018 in terms of weather and coming into the beginning of 2019. If we have normalized weather conditions, then yes, I think Sorel will continue to grow. If it’s hot and dry, no snow in the early fall, there going to be up against difficult comparisons,” Powell explained.

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