You knew times were changing early last year when high heels started collecting dust in closets and Instagram feeds filled up with influencers in sweatpants with big balls of fluff on their feet.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began upending norms last year, “at-home” leisurewear has gained major momentum, and with that has come a surge in slipper sales — a trend that is not likely to slow down any time soon, according to experts.
While the comfort footwear category was already accelerating prior to COVID-19, it saw an inevitable boost last year, with slipper sales, specifically, increasing 21% compared to 2019, according to The NPD Group Inc. Meanwhile, sales of fashion footwear, including heels, sandals, and boots, declined 27% for the year.
Beth Goldstein, fashion footwear and accessories analyst at NPD predicted further gains for slippers in the early part of 2021, followed by a gradual leveling out later in the year. However, she noted the slipper trend could be here to stay: “Continued innovation in the category and a lasting focus on the at-home wardrobe — even as we start shifting back to office life and social events — could allow for sales of the category to remain elevated.”
And comfort overall will remain important, even in non-slipper footwear, Goldstein added.
In September, 70% of consumers surveyed told NPD that once they can return to work and normal activities, they plan to dress just as or more casually than they did prior to the pandemic. This consumer shift has caused established slipper brands to up their game, by expanding their selection of indoor-outdoor styles or hard-soled shoes. At the same time, many newcomers have materialized as they look to capitalize on the boom, bringing fresh excitement and competition to a normally niche market.
Traditional comfort brands found themselves in strong standing last year as consumers looked to prioritize ease. According to The Lyst Index’s quarterly ranking, searches for casual items such as slippers skyrocketed a whopping 242% in Q4, compared with the same period in 2019.
Leading the pack was Ugg.
Searches for Ugg shoes surged in the last quarter of 2020, resonating with both men and women. For example, the Ugg Scuff Deco slippers made an appearance on the men’s hottest product list, while its Classic Ultra Mini boots topped the women’s list. Ugg was also a driving factor for Deckers Outdoor Corp.’s record Q3 performance, with sales for the brand jumping 12.2% to $876.8 million, fueled by major growth for non-classic footwear, including slippers and the now-ubiquitous Fluff franchise.
According to Deckers CEO and president Dave Powers, the Fluff series has been a compelling acquisition vehicle for driving repurchase decisions and helped increase the brand’s 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Ugg president Andrea O’Donnell said the increased consumer attention makes sense: “We possess an authentic heritage in the slipper category. So it was expected that in a work-from-home capacity we would see more business.”
For 2021, Ugg continues to focus on introducing new styles and updating its icons. This spring, the brand added more Fluff Yeahs to its assortment, featuring new colorways, durable outsoles and strappy silhouettes for warmer months.
Execs noted the key goal this year is creating comfort looks that are multifunctional and reach a diverse audience.
“We’ve already established that most of our [slipper] styles have indoor/outdoor versatility and serve many purposes in our consumer’s life,” said O’Donnell. “Our upcoming ‘Feel You’ campaign is all about style and individuality and features creatives who all wear key styles in different ways.”
Meanwhile, Dearfoams has been expanding its product offerings to compete in an increasingly crowded market. For more than 70 years, the heritage brand has been an accessible mainstay for consumers looking for slippers, but now it’s entering the everyday footwear category with The Original Dearfoams Comfort collection, which launched in early February and offers the feeling of a house slipper in a slip-on sneaker silhouette.
“Consumer behavior and needs have fundamentally changed over the past year and are not going back,” said Angela Kenney, VP of merchandising and design at Dearfoams. “As we look forward, we will take our lead from the consumer, who is clearly leading the brand to all things comfy in the home and beyond. The casualization and ‘buy now, wear now’ trends have allowed us to excel given how readily accessible our brand and products are.”
Bob Mullaney, CEO of Dearfoams parent company RG Barry Brands, added that savvy moves ahead of the pandemic set the stage for these new opportunities. “The investment in new products and entering the shearling segment with 100% genuine Australian shearling has enabled RG Barry to be ready when the consumer trends accelerated,” he said.
Similarly, Minnetonka also found itself well-positioned during the height of COVID, thanks to an earlier decision to focus on slippers. President Jori Miller Sherer said the category has been part of Minnetonka’s assortment since its inception 75 years ago, but in 2019, the brand launched a new line called Home & Away that offered comfortable indoor-outdoor styles. Then in 2020, Minnetonka introduced slipper slides, which have been a success.
“We actually did that as a test and it kept selling out. Now this year, it’s going to be a large category for us,” said Miller Sherer. “We think the cozy vibe is going to be here for quite a while. We’re doing releases every month for our 75th anniversary, and we’re doing extra releases all the time on our website.”
Even though the consumer shift to slippers has proved beneficial for industry power players, it has opened the door for others to take a piece of the pie.
One unexpected newcomer is men’s dress shoe brand Florsheim, which previously had one slipper in its lineup. But after the pandemic halted office life, the brand made an aggressive pivot and developed a new line of at-home comfort shoes.
“When COVID came on we started to get calls from our retailers asking if we had slippers. They were canceling our dress shoes,” explained president Kevin Schiff. “We really went to work. We found that work-from-home was just a small part of the lifestyle change that was happening. So we looked at it like, ‘What are we building for? How are we living our life differently?’”
Enter the Short Commute Collection, which launches this spring. The shoes are designed with slip-resistant, non-marking outsoles, water-resistant uppers and are offered in clog and moc silhouettes.
Even without seeing samples firsthand, Florsheim’s wholesale partners, from Zappos to Macy’s, jumped on board. “We sold more of these than any other item that we have in our line,” added Schiff.
Leading slipper brands say they are unphased by this increase in competition, but it’s clear they aren’t staying complacent. Beyond the steps taken by Ugg, Dearfoams and Minnetonka, Lamo last fall introduced Lamolite, a line of everyday casual footwear for men and women. And this month, Birdies, the 6-year-old slipper startup, unveiled its first sneaker silhouette, The Swift.
The Luxe POV
As the high fashion and comfort markets intersect like never before, it’s no surprise that luxury brands are also looking to cash in on the slipper craze. On the runways this season, high-end menswear labels, including Fendi, Dries Van Noten, JW Anderson and Alyx, showcased comfort-driven designs ranging from cozy socks to shearling scuffs. And almost every brand — including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Coach — now counts at least one slipper silhouette in their collections. But for some shoemakers, slippers are now the way to make a splash with consumers.
For British designer Olivia Morris — who had her own namesake line in the 2000s and worked for well-known brands such as Hobbs and Lulu Guinness in recent years — launching an eponymous label in today’s market required a unique viewpoint — and it wasn’t going to be heels. Instead she’s betting big on slippers after seeing a gap in the market for stylish options.
“It’s absolutely about a woman wanting to get dressed at home, wanting to feel chic and fashionable. The fact [that the shoes] are comfortable is the added bonus,” she said about her glamorous, made-in-Spain house mules. “Olivia Morris At Home is designed as beautifully as any high heel, with vibrant and feminine print and color and trims. It’s a nod to nostalgia, but for a modern-day client with modern-day needs,” said Morris. That idea appears to be resonating: The line has been picked up by Shopbop, Hampden Boutique and Capitol & Canary, and also sells on her e-commerce site.
For luxury label Zyne, known for its traditional Moroccan-made, babouche styles, the pandemic changed the fashion landscape, prompting the founders to enter the home category in 2021 with a variety of slippers.
“With the lockdown in place, a majority of people were not going out, so their shoes remained unused in their closet. We decided to launch our home line because we understood that investing in a pair of slippers was more valuable than [investing] in a pair of slides or heels that you were not realistically able to use at the moment,” said co-founder Zineb Britel.
Now, with this entry into comfort, Zyne is able to target a different audience through the new styles, as well as by significantly reducing its price points. (The at-home collection starts at $150, compared with $290 to $440 for its core pieces.)
Said co-founder Laura Pujol, “This was a turning point for our brand. We never imagined launching a home line collection, but we came to the realization that looking great for others should be equally as important as looking good for yourself.”