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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Learn more about Stephanie Bernier


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