Rihanna & the New Generation Labels Disrupting the Shoe Industry

She may be launching her new Fenty line this week with shoes galore, but earlier this month, Rihanna was snapped wearing Amina Muaddi’s Naima sandal. And Tom Van Dorpe’s styling of her Savage x Fenty event in New York last year featured Midnight 00’s signature ruched pumps. The latter also have a starring role at the Costume Institute Camp exhibition extravaganza.

Tellingly, both labels are under two years old.

So what’s going on? FN spoke to seven leading global fashion experts about the evolution of the shoe industry, the niche labels challenging the big brand hegemony and what it takes to succeed in the contemporary climate.

We posed a series of questions to buyers from Mytheresa, LuisaviaRoma, Browns, The Webster, Boutique 1, MatchesFashion and LevelShoes.

The results were illuminating. Consumer behavior, they said, has undergone a massive shift with newness and uniqueness becoming increasingly important. This is driven by social media and a desire to stand out amidst the constant scroll. Such new emphasis is underscored by quality materials and high production values, no matter what the price point.

In addition to Muaddi and Ada Kokosar’s Midnight 00, the brands on the lips of all our experts were By FAR and bag label Wandler, which launches its debut footwear collection next week. Both sit squarely in the affordable luxury category.

Bella Hadid models Midnight 00 at Savage X Fenty.
Bella Hadid models Midnight 00 at Savage X Fenty.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

“Competing on price was never our aim,” says By FAR co-founder Valentina Bezuhanova. “Instead we always try to source the best of the best materials and depend on lower margins to get at that affordable luxury niche.” Likewise Wandler’s Eva Wandler. She eschews major marketing spend in favor of her product, which is produced in the same factories that make her higher-priced counterparts. “It’s an old-fashioned way of thinking,” she says of the notion that contemporary labels must have an elevated price point.

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In addition to driving our appetite for newness, social media, says Bezuhanova, has also democratized the industry. “A decade ago it was up to middle men like agents and distributors to determine which brands go into their portfolio. Nowadays with social media, this power is in the hands of the end client.”

Which is why, she says, emotion is the new battleground. “The competitive question is ‘who will light that spark.’ “

 

Mytheresa: Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director

Tiffany Hsu, My Theresa
Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa
CREDIT: My Theresa

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market?
There is always room for these labels to grow. The demand for newness is incredibly high and customers want a carefully curated edit.

Has the market changed?
Whilst the market has evolved, shoes remain as one of our biggest categories, with sales contributing to over one third of our total business.

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
Midnight 00 has a very ‘out of the box’ aesthetic, and we can barely keep Amina Muaddi‘s flair heel pumps in stock. Both make beautiful, statement pieces that are on-trend yet still made with the highest quality materials and incredible comfort. Our customers love classic styles but they are still willing to take risks on statement pieces.

Midnight 00 at My Theresa.
Midnight 00 at Mytheresa.
CREDIT: My Theresa

Who has the most staying power?
By Far and Wandler are doing well. They’ve created simple, classic styles that are wearable for more than one season.

Social studies
Instagram is good for receiving immediate feedback on a product. Whilst you can see the numbers via followers and likes and even sales, it’s also a way to communicate brand identity wherever you are in the world.

Price matters? 
These new brands are competitively priced alongside our more established bestsellers.

Luisa Via Roma: Graziella Carta, head buyer

Graziella Carta, Luisa via Roma
Graziella Carta, Luisa Via Roma
CREDIT: LVR

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market? 
The market has changed with the prevalence of sport shoes. The mega brands are always popular as are smaller more boutique options, so it’s often not easy for a new brand to emerge in this context.

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
Contemporary labels like By Far, Wandler, Manu Atelier and Cult Gaia and, on the more luxury side, Amina Muaddi, Magda Butrym and Nodaleto. They are elegant and chic and at the same time have an excellent quality to price ratio.

Manu Atelier pre-fall '19.
Manu Atelier pre-fall ’19.
CREDIT: Manu Atelier

Let’s talk social
For an emerging brand, focusing on social influencers is a good investment.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
For new labels, it is actually a problem to be competitive with the big names, as they have to keep a lower price despite the high production costs.

Browns Fashion: Hollie Harding, senior shoe buyer

Hollie Harding, Browns
Hollie Harding, Browns
CREDIT: Browns

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market? 
The main challenge is ensuring enough newness whilst staying true to your aesthetic.

Has the market changed?
Our customer is definitely still buying into the super brands, but the growing number of new-to-market brands at a contemporary price points means customers are purchasing more regularly without having to overthink on the investment. We are also seeing a rise in niche brands from new markets like South Korea and Scandinavia.

Amina Muaddi at Browns.
Amina Muaddi at Browns.
CREDIT: Browns

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
By Far, Simon Miller, Amina Muaddi, Yuul Yie and Diemme have an incredibly strong point of view and unique selling point. I am also excited to see how Wandler’s new footwear collection sells.

Who has the most staying power?
By Far definitely has what it takes to succeed. They are way ahead of the curve on setting trends both in their footwear and bag offering. I am also loving Amina Muaddi who has such a distinct DNA with her incredible silhouettes, fabrics and colorways. We just can’t keep her styles in stock.

Yuul Yie at Browns.
Yuul Yie at Browns.
CREDIT: Browns

Getting social
Social media is incredibly important, as it lets designers talk direct to their customer and allows for incredible brand engagement. We are always scouting and discovering new brands on social platforms. Brands like Wandler and Manu Atelier are both branching into the shoe category based on the online presence they’ve already built.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
The contemporary price point means customers are able to invest in multiple styles throughout the season. However, people will pay a premium for quality and uniqueness.

The Webster: Astrid Boutrot, head buyer

Astrid Boutrot, The Webster
Astrid Boutrot, The Webster
CREDIT: The Webster

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market? 
Social media has made it so much easier to launch a new brand. It also makes customers more inquisitive and excited to discover something new. I think it’s important for it to feel sincere but with the right influencer, the exposure is invaluable. It’s a trusted stamp of approval within a very engaged community.

What is the greatest challenge for young labels?
Shoes are a major impulse buy, so the biggest challenge is getting that emotional reaction from the customer.

Has the market changed?
There is more choice now which ultimately makes it more exciting for the customer. While the global designer brands continue to be very important, people aren’t afraid to mix them with younger designers.

Nodaleto fall '19.
Nodaleto fall ’19.
CREDIT: FN Staff

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
We are excited to support more up-and-coming shoe specialist brands like Nodaleto and Alevi.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
There is little price resistance for shoes when there is the right combination of quality, design and marketing. Smaller or younger brands should be mindful to not go over $700-$900.

Boutique 1: Deena Khourshid, senior buyer

Deena, Boutique 1
Deena Khourshid, Boutique 1
CREDIT: Boutique 1

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market?
It’s definitely harder as the shoe industry is crammed. The main challenges are maintaining creativity and authenticity, but key components for longevity are style, quality and comfort.

Has the market changed?
Luxury is witnessing a shift and the Industry is celebrating a more casual aesthetic. Consumers are no longer just looking for the mega brand, but [they] are now searching for more original and under the radar labels.

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
Neous for its cutting edge silhouettes and Wandler for price point, style and comfort. By Far with its minimal aesthetic has become our “it” shoe brand summer — it’s a contemporary answer to The Row.

By Far
By Far boots
CREDIT: TM STUDIOD

Getting social
Social media is vital for all brands, not only the new ones. Influencers are now becoming the face of mega brands and are ranked based on followers, region and status. Today a brand can decide which segment it would like to tap into by simply choosing the right influencer.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
Customers are always willing to pay for something that is new, different, in-demand and worn by their favorite influencers.

Matches Fashion: Cassie Smart, head of womenswear buying

Cassie Smart, Matches Fashion
Cassie Smart, Matches Fashion
CREDIT: Matches Fashion

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market? 
I think it’s easier. There are so many more category opportunities. Due to our increasingly active lifestyles we have seen a rise in more casual footwear. Brands can focus on one style and do it really well rather than having a huge offering

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
Brands like Emme Parsons, Hereu, Wandler and By Far, which have really focused on their own DNA, creating something that has a unique point of view and considered price point.

Wandler at MatchesFashion.
Wandler at MatchesFashion.
CREDIT: MatchesFashion

Who has the most staying power?
Ancient Greek Sandals has gone from strength to strength for just such reasons.

Getting social
We discovered Arizona Love via Instagram, and we were impressed by the unique aesthetic. We do sometimes notice brands in this way and have spikes when certain ambassadors wear pieces on social media.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
We haven’t really noticed this. There is a clear definition in price point between our contemporary brands and our international.

Level Shoes: Julia Mcrae, women’s buyer

Julia Mcrae, Level Shoes
Julia Mcrae, Level Shoes
CREDIT: Level

Is it harder for new shoe labels to get a foothold in the market?
Shoes as a category will always be one of the hardest markets to break [into] within the fashion industry.

Has the market changed?
Consumers are more emotional with their spending, buying something because they love it, not necessarily because of the brand name. Of course the industry will always be driven by mega brands, but in this digital age, appetite for uniqueness is more relevant than ever. This is why niche brands with limited distribution like Amina Muaddi, Alevi and Midnight 00 have performed so well for us.

Alevi Alice pumps at Level Shoes.
Alevi Alice pumps at Level Shoes.
CREDIT: Level Shoes

Which emerging labels have successfully broken through?
By FAR is a prime example of a brand that has created a cult following in a very short period of time. They’ve been very savvy with placements on key influencers, while limited distribution limited leaves consumers wanting more. For fall ’18 their Tanya sandal sold out almost instantly, not only at Level but worldwide, creating hype for the season ahead.

Getting social
It’s definitely one of the most effective ways to interact with customers and create brand awareness.

Is there a sweet spot in terms of price?
Price point is a huge factor for newer labels who lack economy of scale but still need to maintain high production values. However, brands like Amina Muaddi and Midnight 00 have still succeeded due to their product. Our customers are willing to pay these prices for must-have product. They see shoes as more of an investment than ready-to-wear.

By FAR Tanya sandals at Level Shoes.
By FAR Tanya sandals at Level Shoes.
CREDIT: Level Shoes

Want more?

Exclusive: How Emerging Designer Ada Kokosar’s Midnight 00 Shoes Ended Up at the Met

A Look at the Shoes in Rihanna’s Fenty Collection

First Look: Amina Muaddi’s Eponymous New Line

Watch FN’s video of the 2018 FNAA’s red carpet.

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