Women’s Performance Footwear is Outpacing Men’s — These Brands Are Benefitting

As the performance footwear business explodes, insights suggest that the buying power of women is a major factor.

Women’s performance footwear is growing faster than men’s, according to data presented by Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group Inc., during the U.S. Sports Market Performance Review presentation on Wednesday. While the women’s performance footwear category is smaller than men’s in terms of sales, it is growing at a faster rate overall. Specific growth varies by category, but much of it was driven by running. In the training and walking categories, women’s growth outperformed men.

“[The growth is] really about women’s footwear in the athletic specialty sporting goods channel. And particularly in the running category,” Powell noted. The running category grew by 19% in the first half of 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.

Within running, one of the fastest growing performance categories, men still outpaced women in terms of sales volume for the first half of 2021. But according to Powell, this ratio — men at 46% and women at 41% — is a lot narrower than other athletic categories.

As more women buy running shoes, certain brands that have properly courted them have seen returns. Hoka One One, Brooks and Skechers, have all seen positive gains in their women’s businesses. Meanwhile, footwear giants Nike and Adidas have lost share in their women’s athletic footwear business to competitors such as Skechers, Brooks, Vans and others, many of which already had huge shares of the women’s market.

The walking category has also been an important driver of growth in women’s performance footwear. Women’s walking product grew 22% in the first half of 2021 and holds the majority share at 63%. Powell said he sees more opportunity for growth in this category.

“I think walking shoes remains a big opportunity for our industry,” Powell said. “There are many people out trying to stay healthy and fit by walking. Many of them are buying running shoes, but I think if a brand could really come out with a compelling product in walking that they could say is the ‘best walking shoe ever’ I think they could grab some significant business.”

FN previously reported that a study from Rockport and First Insight conducted in March found that 53% of Americans walk one to five miles more each day than they did pre-pandemic, and 36% said they walk at least one to two miles a day.

Targeting beginner runners has also been an important acquisition strategy for brands, especially as people start running for the first time. Brooks has found success with this strategy, Powell previously told FN

Meanwhile, Nike and Adidas continue to lose share in the crucial, fast-growing market.

“Both [Nike and Adidas] have stated publicly that they’re banking on the women’s business to be a growth category for them. And while the business is growing, it’s just not growing nearly as quickly as it is with smaller brands, so they’ve got some ground to make up for sure,” Powell previously told FN.

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