While some American workers will soon return to the office as coronavirus restrictions lift, others are making work from home more permanent. And that’s good news for the slipper business.
According to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, slipper sales in April — usually the category’s off season — nearly doubled compared to the year prior, according to Beth Goldstein, industry analyst, fashion footwear and accessories for the NPD Group. “I’ve long felt there’s opportunity for a more year-round slipper business, and we’re now potentially seeing that come to fruition. This has been driven by circumstances we couldn’t have predicted, but this could continue as work from home arrangements are extended or become permanent.”
Although there are many who already have a pair of slippers tucked under their bed, many are new to the category. “The mindset has definitely shifted because of the quarantines coming so unexpectedly,” said Roger Jubas, SVP of sales for Reliable of Milwaukee, makers of the Muk Luks brand. “There’s no question a lot of people were completely unprepared, unequipped, and certainly under wardrobed.”
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Jerry Breig, COO of Lamo, sees the uptick in sales a long-term positive as more people work from home. “I think it’s the next normal,” he said, noting the company is currently experiencing sales more typical of late Q3 or Q4, the prime selling season for the category. “Business has picked up dramatically in what’s normally a slow period for us.”
With the closure of non-essential businesses over the past several months, shoppers have increasingly turned to e-commerce for their product needs and slippers are no exception. “Slippers have evaporated on our direct-to-consumer platform and with our retail partners,” said Keith Barnett, president of North America for Emu Australia. “We witnessed our partners shift merchandising strategies marketing our slippers on their web home pages and social media, in many cases, selling out to the pair.”
At Minnetonka Moccasin, online sales have also been brisk. “We’ve seen an uptick in our slipper e-commerce since the pandemic hit,” said David Miller, CEO, noting increases ranging from 25% to 250% depending on the e-tail account. “Retailers have adapted very quickly to strategically focusing their efforts to e-commerce and have used it as a way to help reduce inventories in closed stores. We have some large multi-store national accounts whose overall slipper sales are only down 50% with all their stores closed That’s an amazing pivot.”
What’s helped turn slippers into a must-have item is the diverse range of product, evidenced by multiple pair purchases. According to Lamo’s Breig, “Our average [e-commerce] order before COVID-19, was one to 1.1 pairs, and now we’re approaching 1.6 to 1.9 pairs per order. People are ordering two or more pairs per shipment.”
It’s not just the more typical lower-priced items that are generating sales — natural wool looks also performing.
Kiera Ryan, U.S. manager for Glerups, a high-end line of wool styles from Denmark, said sales have been brisk for the collection, which retails from $76 to $155, “It’s about purchasing quality,” she said. “We strive to help the environment and not use toxic chemicals. We also believe in sharing the cake. The price might seem a bit high, but you’re buying wool that’s traceable from a farmer. It’s giving the production team a livable wage.”
Versatility is also figuring into the equation, said Ryan, noting styles on durable rubber outsoles have been performing. “People are barely leaving their house, but when they do, it’s a quick trip to the post office or walking the dog or to the grocery,” she said, noting a need for styles that can double as more traditional shoes.
Also reporting strong demand for indoor-outdoor looks is European brand Giesswein, produced in Austria.
“We’re selling more and more slippers that are shoe-like that offer support,” said Matt Tracy, president of Giesswein USA. “Our most expensive items are the best-selling and feature arch support. People are home in front of the computer, but they’re also up and down all the time, making lunches. So, it’s not just a slipper you wear around the fire. It’s a shoe for all day at home.”
Acorn has also seen a range of categories performing. “Initially, it was soft, cozy [styles], said Samantha Sakemiller, senior brand director for Acorn and sister brand Isotoner. “We were all experiencing chaos. [The company] was on a mission to help customers feel calm.” While the brands continue to see huge demand for its open-toe styles, consumers are also becoming more interested in functional [looks] for outdoors, she noted.
While at-home living has prompted many to add slippers to their wardrobes, support from celebrities has helped move the category even further. “The wild frenzy on social media from the Tik-Tok stars to Jessica Alba locked inside their homes wearing our comfy slippers has opened to the door to many new [retailer] inquiries,” said Emu Australia’s Barnett. “A few stores who have never carried slippers before are now diving headfirst into trend.”
For Dearfoams, however, the coronavirus simply fueled a trend that had already started. “We saw the momentum even before COVID-19,” said Bob Mullaney, president and CEO of parent company RG Barry. “Look at how much money is being spent, from sleepwear to home [goods]. We think slippers plays into people taking care of themselves and restoring.”