Performance Footwear Execs Explain How Product Function is the Key to Capturing the Explosive Market

When it comes to performance footwear, category leaders agree: form follows function.

For companies such as running brand Hoka One One and recovery footwear brand Oofos, while overall design is important, providing a comfortable and effective athletic experience is paramount.

“We do our utmost to make them appealing, but we’re really motivated by the function product,” said Hoka’s global VP of product Gretchen Weimer in a roundtable discussion on Wednesday. The discussion, moderated by FN’s Peter Verry, was a part of “The Power of Self-Care,” a 2021 Wellness Forum presented by WWD Beauty Inc. and Footwear News. The roundtable also included Dr. Daniel Geller, D.P.M. for sports podiatry and advisor for Kane Footwear, and Dr.  A. Holly Johnson, M.D., sports medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

“That’s not to say that our group of industrial designers and color designers don’t take the aesthetic seriously,” Weimer added. “But again, really a focus on form and function is where we start.”

As the athletic performance market remains a bright spot in the broader footwear market, brands in the running, walking, and training categories are seeing significant rewards for their focus on comfort, performance, and recovery.

According to The NPD Group’s U.S. Footwear Industry Sales report for Q2 2021, performance shoe sales have continued to grow following a general uptick during the pandemic. Q2 sales in the category totaled $2 billion compared with $1.6 billion in 2019. In Q1, NPD data found that performance footwear sales increased 32% year-over-year.

For the women’s athletic footwear market, NPD’s retail tracking service data showed a 29% increase in sales in the first half of 2021. During this time, Nike and Adidas ceded share to Skechers, Brooks, Vans and other brands, senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group Matt Powell previously told FN. Hoka One One and On, two other standout running brands in 2020, also resonated with women.

A general emphasis on exercise and wellness has helped trigger the success of brands such as Hoka, Brooks, and On, which tend to market to all levels of athletes, especially beginners. It has also made recovery top of mind for consumers.

“I think [recovery is] playing a more prominent role than ever,” said Oofos brand president Steve Gallo in the same roundtable discussion. “I think it has stemmed from this cultural tension of the importance of recovery in people’s everyday lives, whether you’re an athlete looking to recover to have a productive work out the next day or whether you’re someone with a medical condition, you’re looking to just get better, or just recovery from everyday life.”

Like with Hoka, designers at Oofos also consider esthetics and fashion when creating a product. But, as Gallo noted, “those fashion trends will never supersede the importance of the technology” to ensure each customer gets the athletic experience they are seeking. Oofos uses a proprietary foam material called Oofoam, which assists in active recovery with arch support.

“At the center of all of our product development is the technology which is exclusive to us,” Gallo said. “And it allows our design team to really build around that.”

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