Performance Running Shoes Could Come Back in Fashion — Which May Help Under Armour Make a Comeback

Performance running sneakers haven’t been on-trend in fashion for some time, however one industry insider believes that this could change because of the coronavirus crisis.

The NPD Group senior industry adviser Matt Powell has spoken for years about the lack of fashion appeal of performance shoes, regardless of sport. But due to several factors stemming from COVID-19, the market expert is confident what people buy and wear — specifically concerning footwear choices — will change.

“As we begin to emerge from this pandemic, I think there’s going to be a rededication on people’s parts to healthy lifestyles,” Powell told FN. “When we look at the casualties of COVID, for the most part they were people with preexisting conditions — they were overweight, they the smokers, they had diabetes or heart problems. I think that’s going to drive people to try to live healthier lifestyles.”

Also, Powell explained, the ability to run while staying physically separated from others could be a factor in the category’s resurgence.

“I really believe social distancing is going to be a huge theme and a huge driver in behavior,” Powell said. “I think people are going to be reluctant to go to places that are crowded or that are indoors, and they’re going to be much more inclined to do things outside — and running as an activity will become more important.”

Economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus could also play a role. The industry insider said a resurgence in performance running shoe sales post recession is nothing new.

“In every recession that we’ve had since I’ve been looking at this business, running shoes make a big comeback,” Powell said. “People are out of work, they are looking for an inexpensive way to get fit and buying the paying a pair of running shoes or just running is whatever you have is an inexpensive way, if you will, to try to get fit.”

During the months that brick-and-mortar was closed due to the coronavirus crisis, Powell said despite the amount of people heading out to run rising, this boom had not had an impact on merchandise sales. However, he revealed recent data that has shown an uptick — albeit slight — in performance running footwear.

Citing early NPD data, Powell stated sales for performance running shoes were up 5% for the week ending June 6 and up low single digits for the month of May. [He also said running shoes performed better in terms of sales than the rest of the market.]

Powell said brands that vastly outperformed the market, NPD’s early data shows, were Hoka One One, On and Brooks. Another brand that performed well, although not as strong as the aforementioned run-specific brands, was Under Armour.

Powell explained that the Baltimore-based athletic powerhouse could benefit from this potential running shoe trend for the same reasons he has long been critical of the company: for focusing too intently on performance product.

“They were focused on performance as opposed to lifestyle and if we see a swing back to performance, they could be one of the brands that benefits from this,” Powell said. “And again, this is based off of one week’s worth of data, but they clearly have outperformed a lot of other running shoe brands.”

Since November 2017, Under Armour has bolstered its efforts to make strides in the running category, specifically with the launch of its shoes featuring Hovr cushioning. It’s latest acclaimed model to feature the material is the UA Hovr Machina, which made its retail debut on Feb. 7 via UA.com, at Under Armour Brand Houses, the UA Shop App and at specialty run retailers. The performance running sneakers sell for $150.

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