What holds footwear companies back in apparel?

The active apparel category is more than twice the size of the athletic footwear market, but when it comes to brand extensions into apparel most footwear companies don’t reach their potential. This phenomenon is well documented. Public shoe companies continuously proclaim it a growth opportunity, but somehow continue to come up short. Here are 6 reasons to explain it:

Cultural Mindset  Footwear companies tend to be industrial design driven. Industrial designers focus on design, but place a higher value on engineering and performance. Footwear companies tend to hire like-minded individuals.

Fashion designers come from a fine arts point of view and see the world differently. Apparel firms focus on fashion drivers like trends, color, styling, brand promise and the emotional connection it involves. Performance and construction are secondary. Diversity of thought makes a creative organization stronger.

Lack of Creative Risk Taking  In the past many active footwear companies believed that they could simply print their logo on a basic tee, and it would sell itself. Active apparel, for the most part, was poor quality commodities. The active apparel category was lackluster and the assumption was that this was a budget priced segment. Then fashion risk takers like Under Armour and Lululemon, came along with emotionally charged products and branding and turned the theory on its head. These two companies were born from apparel roots and became the de facto leaders in active apparel. You get paid for great work.

Lululemon has succeeded to make expensive yoga wear into everyday casual wear, way beyond yoga. They take real fashion risks and lead the market, through styling innovation. Their styles are unique, figure flattering, with an eye for thoughtful tiny details. They release fresh, funky items, in short supply and have trained the customer to buy at full-price or miss the fun. Last year they released a sell-out tutu for barre exercise. A woman could live out her inner ballerina fantasy!

Lululemon's barre tutu

Lululemon’s sell-out tutu!

Market Assumptions  Most athletic footwear companies assume the world revolves around sports and the celebrity endorsement. This may be true for men, but not so for women. Men may connect emotionally with their favorite football player. Women buy shoes and apparel based on how the brands fill their emotional needs and they are different.

Women’s apparel is a bigger opportunity, as they buy significantly more apparel than men. Companies often assume performance has greater value over style. The truth is most people who wear athletic shoes aren’t athletes.

Brand Clarity  Every consumer product company needs to understand who they want to sell and deliver compelling product that fills their audience’s wants and needs. Consistency is paramount, the message can’t be muddled. If your brand is “cool” all your products must be equally “cool”. To lead a market, you have to get ahead of it and take some calculated fashion risks. This is more critical than ever in the highly competitive fashion industry.

Analysis Paralysis  Fashion’s greatest leaders have an intuitive sense of what is right for their brands. Do you think Michael Kors, J Crew, Anthropologie and other fashion leaders look to focus groups to decide what to offer? The common denominator is a visionary leader with their head in the details. Lululemon says they don’t use focus groups; they just observe their customer and keep her top-of-mind. It is easy to get too analytical and bureaucratic with the creative process. Large committees water down the soup. Footwear companies like engineers, like can get too hung up in process.

Lead Times  Footwear companies have longer lead times due to the complexities of shoe production. Apparel companies try to develop as close to the season to be as on-trend as possible. This makes it difficult for footwear manufacturers to react to current fashion.

The barrier to entry is much higher to develop new shoes. Mold costs can be prohibitive to experimentation. It can be far less costly to experiment in apparel so it allows for more creativity.

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on trend and creative direction, brand experience and business strategy, product development, merchandising and provides executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies.  CONTACT US TODAY!  or call 617.733.7411

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Miu Miu – A Journey Without Leaving Home

When shopping brick and mortar, I try to let myself be led by the call of great merchandise. I never shop recreationally, since I spend so much time in stores. I want to be transfixed and enticed by products so compelling, that I am stopped in my tracks. This is a rare and special occurrence. More often than not, when perusing shoe departments, I stop short at the sight of  Miu Miu shoes (the Prada sister brand). These over-the-top, scene-stealing pumps, stilettos, sandals and sneakers bring me to my wobbly knees. These sexy, shiny, jewel encrusted shoes are for the wanna-be bad girl, in all of us.  Miu Miu has the ability to take me on a fantastic journey without leaving home!

These stilettos from Miu Miu hit a glam slam.

These pumps and sandals from Miu Miu hit a glam slam!

Miu Miu is designer Miuccia Prada’s nick name, pronounced Miou, Miou. She started this avant-garde line of apparel, shoes and accessories in the early nineties, as a slightly less expensive line to Prada.  A serious growth story, Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli, expects the Miu Miu  brand to double from around $500 million. You get rewarded for exceptional work!

You have to have a certain jet set lifestyle to don these duds. The average mortal, even if they can afford the pricey shoes, doesn’t live the life. I suspect they are selling millions of dollars worth of hope and worn on rare occasions, unless you are a middle eastern princess , Russian oil oligarchess or American reality star!

dix & pond is the blog of dix& pond consulting.

Timelessly Chic – Newport News

2012 is undoubtedly one of the most colorful years in women’s fashion. Neon color and uber brights will stop you in your “espadrille trodden” tracks. These enchanting hues can transport a working girl from cubicle to samba, in a flash of Tangerine Tango!

Amongst the colorful chaos stands a timeless, American, nautical inspired trend. I call it Newport News, elegant, simple, a tad preppy and screaming good taste. It perennially rears its lovely head in transitional seasons, like early spring and summer. Think dry cottons…canvas and twill, breezy voiles, openwork sweaters, rope soles and handles and leather luggage details. Simple two-toned stripes and nautical motifs are the primary graphics.

Newport News - American Nautical Trend for 2012

This is more of an important accessory story, than full-blown “down-on-the-docks” dressing. It can just be one refined item like J Crew’s sequined anchor top or as simple as a striped boat neck from Rugby. Make it modern by pairing refined pieces with more casual ones. Like sequins with denim or a sateen striped clutch with a rustic knit sweater. Bottoms include denim shorts, slim and flared jeans, as well as pleated long or short skirts.

In shoes, think fabric…espadrilles, ropey wedges, ballet flats, as well as boat shoes. For bags there are roomy fabric totes, wicker clutches, back packs and sturdy leather bags. Longchamp’s white Le Pliage totes are also perfect “nautical chic”.

Officer’s navy and sail white are the primary tones, but can be accessorized with brazen accents of banana, poppy, emerald or orange.

The best “Newport News “accessories and clothing can be found from the beloved, usual prepster suspects…Rugby, J Crew, Madewell, Kate Spade, Milly, Tory Burch, Sperry, Coach, Longchamp, and Ralph Lauren.

Newport News is a natural trend for home decor. The contrast of polished with casual textures, is perfect for an urban loft or coastal cottage.

Dix&pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.


In Step – Colorful Shoes

For several years, shoe and handbag sales have been far more robust than women’s apparel. In an economic downturn, women turn to accessories for a wardrobe update. A strong new silhouette, pattern, status brand or colorful accessory can refresh existing apparel basics. It is not surprising that women have also turned to exciting and unusual colors and finishes in nail polish recently. Nail color is one of the fastest growing areas in beauty, as it gives a woman an inexpensive way to make a daring fashion statement. Beauty companies like the shoe and accessory manufacturers have continued to “up-the-ante” and offer color where no woman (or many manufacturers) dared to go in the past. They have created some of the most showstopping footwear lately and are getting paid for their risk taking. I expect this emotionally driven shoe trend to continue in seasons to come.

Colorful shoes are a huge footwear trend for 2012.

Shoes and bags have taken center stage over apparel sales in the past few years. Very colorful statement shoes and bags are a dominant accessory trend for 2012.

Who needs another basic black pant; but who can resist a pair of hot pink “life changing” sandals?

The hottest trend in shoes (and handbags) this year is strong, unabashed color and pattern. Bright, neon, pastel colors and prints are on sandals, wedges, espadrilles, pumps, platforms, two-tone oxfords, flats and athletic shoes. Personally, I couldn’t pass up orange patent wedges from J. Crew and was mesmerized by a yellow patent Ted Baker bag. Banana yellow? I have never owned a yellow accessory in my life.

Some of the best colorful shoes this season are from unexpected sources…Stuart Weitzman, Cole Haan and Nike. Great color and patterns can be found from J Crew, Tom’s, Sperry Topsider, Kate Spade, Fendi, Giuseppe Zanotti, Brian Atwood, Prada and many more.

Did you buy a colorful shoe this season?

Dix&pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

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