These Are the Big Issues Footwear Components Makers Are Battling

No detail is too small when it comes to crafting — or marketing — the perfect shoe.

And hitting on the right mix of characteristics to satisfy consumers, retailers and marketers is a challenge — one that footwear component makers know all too well. At the recent Materials Show in Portland, Ore., exhibitors shared how they design with their customers and end-consumers in mind.

All agreed that with price pressures, speed demands and environmental concerns mounting, there’s always something to keep them on their toes.

Rogers Corp., which makes comfort cushioning solutions, works with market leaders such as Ariat and Nike. According to Bruce Lambert, sales engineer for Rogers, the company’s Poron technology separates it from competitors — and helps its partners do the same.

Lambert said with the rise of the consumer insole business, some footwear brands are opting for lesser quality insoles because they’re just going to come out anyway. “Because of the aftermarket business, [brands] are going for cheaper products in the shoe because they’re taken out,” he said. But rather than cater to the lower end of the market, Rogers is partnering with shoe companies that recognize the added value its products bring.

One example is Oboz, a hiking boot brand, that touts the shock absorption and rebound that Poron lends to its O Fit Insole. Ultimately, Lambert said Oboz turned to Rogers to help reduce break-in time and increase comfort.

By helping create a better overall product, Rogers is able to provide a marketing narrative that allows brands to differentiate their shoes from others and drive higher margins, which is especially important when someone is contemplating a $500 hiking boot, Lambert said.

To help tell the story, some partners, such as Ariat, will feature either hangtags or sewn in labels touting Poron materials are in use. “More and more brands want advanced technology in their footwear,” Lambert said, adding that the focus on innovation is directly tied to the wealth of information on the internet. “The tags allow consumers to pull up the information to learn more.”

Innovation plus recognizable brand names go a long way.

Goodyear has spent 120 years building a reputation based on performance both on the road and off. In the footwear business, a track record like that resonates with some consumers. “So much of their experience can relate to footwear and applies to many aspects of our daily lives,” said Jesse Pasternak, vice president of Polyconix Corp., the Goodyear licensee and maker of heels and soles. “We learn a great deal from their advanced testing that is not customarily available in the footwear business.”

While the Goodyear name might be the thing that stops shoppers in their tracks, ultimately Pasternak said it’s the company’s commitment to continuously evolving and improving that makes an impression. By way of example, he noted the company recently developed a way to replace petroleum oil with sustainable soy-oil based rubber.

Capturing shoppers’ attention in store is more important and harder than ever given consumers’ short attention spans and the amount of competition in the market.

But David Smith, sales director for Colortech, which offers PU insoles and midsoles, said brands must balance pleasing customers at the point of decision by creating products that will keep them happy in the days and weeks after the transaction.

When it comes to insoles, that means offering a product that not only feels great initially but one that goes the distance mile after mile.

“Brands are focused on the in-store experience with a light, cushioned feel, but they’re not focused on how it feels a month later,” Smith said. Too often products that helped close the sale later disappoint because they lose much of their effectiveness. “We try to meet brands halfway with lighter products with less density that also focus on durability because everyone is going for lightweight shoes, so making them last [will be the differentiator]. And consumers will start to notice,” he said.

In addition to performance, Smith said there’s been buzz around sustainability lately, though he sees “a real squeeze there” because there’s pushback if it costs more to be environmentally friendly.

Micro-Pak combats this argument with a sustainable option that has a direct positive impact on the bottom line.

The company’s flagship product is a tag that’s designed to prevent mold inside shoe boxes as cargo moves from point A to B. The tags are made from recycled materials and can be recycled at the end of use as well. But the biggest sustainability benefit is that by preventing the mold damage, footwear brands can avoid ending up with soiled shoes, which eventually they may choose to destroy.

Micro-Pak continues to take steps toward creating less waste. The company developed a new solution for apparel after its customers pointed out that rather than adding a sheet inside a traditional polybag to eliminate mold, it would be better if the bag itself could serve that purpose.

“As companies look for ways to be sustainable, suppliers are pushed to be environmentally friendly too,” said Sal Cesario, Micro-Pak’s global sales and marketing manager.

Avery Dennison agrees that as brands make strides, suppliers must race to keep up when it comes to slashing development and production times.

Leila Rojas, events and social media marketing specialist, said Avery Dennison’s brand partners all have one thing in mind: speed.

The company, which can contribute every component short of the sole, markets its comprehensive solutions as a way to achieve shortened timelines. Rojas pointed out that if a brand works with Avery Dennison from start to finish it can count on consistency in color and materials and as well as greater efficiency.

“They’re getting faster so we have to get faster,” Rojas said.

Editor’s Note: This story was reported by FN’s sister magazine, Sourcing Journal. For more, visit Sourcingjournal.com.

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