Top Women’s Casual Shoe Trends for Fall 2015

The Top Casual Women's Footwear Trends For Fall 2015

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THE TOP WOMEN’S CASUAL FOOTWEAR TRENDS                 

There are five big trends in women’s casual footwear for fall 2015. Look for strong athletic inspiration, vintage looks, under-construction, simple styling, ultra-comfort and the contrast of glamour with sportiness.

Vintage Sport: Simple, vintage, vulcanized shoes continue to be a strong trend for fall 2015. Look for hipster sneakers, slip-ons, boxing and basket ball styles, as well as rubber soles on leather-upper boots and shoes. These under-constructed, athletic-inspired shoes pair with skinny, boyfriend jeans, skirts and athletic pants.

Seventies Bohemian: Under-constructed, hippie sandals and boots complement the retro, seventies, bohemian, fashion trend. There is a resurgence of suede, tan leathers, cork, stacked heels, lug soles, chukkas, ankle boots, sherpa and fringe details. Reemerging flared jeans require higher-heeled boots, sandals and shoes.

Easy Living: Comfort is a mega-trend in casual shoes. Soft, bend and stretch ballerinas, slip-ons, lace-free styles, brogues with rubber soles and driving moccasins, in a range of colors, patterns and materials are endlessly wearable for work and on the weekends.

Looking Sharp: Very pointed toes emerge in women’s ballet flats, Mary Janes, loafers, menswear looks, booties and lace-ups in suedes, patterns, metallic, rustic and patent leathers. These pair well with pants, short skirts and jeans.

Glam Sport:  Sport shoes go glamorous. Sneakers, loafers and shoes with rubber bottoms get a serious dose of cosmopolitan in metallic, patent leathers and edgy details. These pair well with urban minimalist and athletic looks.

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Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, Boston-based, product development, creative, branding, business consulting and executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

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6 Five-Star Specialty Retailers in a Lackluster Field

I was shopping in New York recently and feeling rather uninspired. I usually have an agenda, a new store or retailer, I am particularly excited about. Most large retailers make their own apparel and accessory products, so the watery soup is often spoiled by too many cooks, adding their managerial spice. It’s increasingly hard to find good retail theater, a strong brand identity and exciting, well-designed product, that hasn’t been tainted by levels of bureaucrats.

I challenged myself to come up with 6 “five-star” retailers that are doing an outstanding job, with a consistent brand experience and compelling fashion in a lackluster field:

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

Madewell – is the baby sister of J. Crew. I have been a long-time J. Crew proponent, even though the mothership has stumbled lately. Madewell is coming into its own with American casual classics, based around core denim pieces. You know to expect great jeans, chambray shirts, denim jackets, hip tees and knits, funky socks, rustic leather bags and shoes and slightly bohemian jewelry. The colors are simple and lean to the neutral side. The collection is totally wearable and much better-than-average quality for the price, a winning combination. This high-growth chain has little competition in the mall and will now be sold in Nordstrom as well.

Athleta – I was not a fan of fan of Athleta when Gap purchased it in 2008 for a mere $150 million. At the time their “zen-like” yoga prints and mass-market color sense paled against activewear, fashion pioneer Lululemon. Gap was betting on the powerful athleisure trend in apparel and has put their considerable product development muscle and resources behind the chain. They now have over 100 stores and have shed those expected “new-age” prints for a powerful collection of more urbane, sexy, forward clothing. They get that the athletic trend is worn as much out of the gym, as in, with their deep collection of cosmopolitan casual dresses, knit tops, bottoms and huge assortment of mix and match swimwear. I actually bought a $500 leather jacket at this formerly “perky” yoga chain and have never even done a downward dog.

Club Monaco – is a Canadian-based acquisition, part of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Certainly not a household word, they only have approximately 140 stores worldwide. Club Monaco offers women’s and men’s collections of modern, urbane classics at affordable luxury prices points. Tasteful, upscale and contemporary, they are especially strong in knit tops, dresses, jackets, skirts and accessories for work and play. The quality of design and materials, far exceeds the price points to make Club Monaco a fairly hidden gem.

Michael Kors – Wandering through Macy’s first floor flagship the other day, I was blown away by the crowd of at least 40 people in the Michael Kors shop. The Coach concession across the hall had 2 visitors. it wasn’t a special event, it was business as usual for this hot-shot, brand-of-the-moment.

Michael Kors is a text-book example of consistent branding. The uber-glam handbags, watches, shoes and “bit of an after note”, clothing are precisely on the same urbane plane. Their stores, website, marketing collateral and product are as in sync as an Argentine tango. Chock it up as a real designer with one eye for everything. Even if you are getting tired of his ubiquitous bags, this brand is fashion branding royalty.

Zara – is fast-fashion at it’s finest. Owned by Spanish parent Inditex, in my book it blows away competitors H&M and Forever 21. They consistently put out easy-to-shop collections of fashion forward apparel and accessories, that defy their puny price points. Taken out of context the styling and quality could be mistaken for some of the best. There is no doubt what to expect at Zara, the best fashion trends in real-time, at really low prices. Zara brand profile as fashion leader, is crystal clear.

Lou & Grey – is a new free-standing store concept brand from parent Ann, Inc. It was born from the success of loungy apparel in their Loft chain. When I stumbled upon the Natick, Ma concept store, I was pleasantly surprised by the small sophisticated, upscale environment and compelling collection of lifestyle casual apparel and earthy accessories. This is the best thing Ann Inc. has done in a while. It is easier to do something new than reinvent history. Ann Taylor and Loft have become sterilized versions of their glory days with poor quality, dull offerings and banal stores. Currently only 7 stores,  Lou & Grey is one to watch.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Wrong Prescription for Coach’s Ills

Coach continues its downward slide. Sales in 3rd quarter 2015, dropped 15%. Some blame currency issues and the over-proliferation of outlet stores. Note to leadership, it’s the merchandise. Stuart Vevers strategy is stodgy, European and not much fun. The sleepy handbags are more matron than Millennial. Note to pundits, Millennials love outlet shopping. I still contend that their turnaround strategy is seriously flawed and too dependent on overly competitive apparel. I wrote this post in 2014 and not much has changed except Michael Kors and Kate Spade are hitting some headwinds, as well.

Coach’s 2014 first quarter profit fell 20%, while aspirational fashion rivals such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade continue to ratchet impressive gains. Coach experienced a steep drop in North American accessories sales. Coach’s strategy for slumping sales is a planned full lifestyle assortment, to include apparel and a greater emphasis on higher priced bags over $400, the volume sweet spot.  They recently hired a new creative director Stuart Vevers, to take over for Reed Krakoff (who is resigning); his first product introductions will be in Fall 2014.

Coach spring 2014 styles

Coach spring 2014 styles

As a Coach watcher and stock holder, this strategy goes down like bad medicine. Instead of aiming to win in the sweet spot, they are abdicating to the competition. Michael Kors’ apparel is a footnote to his successful handbags, watches and shoes. Kate Spade offers some of the most whimsical, colorful, bags, shoes and accessories and apparel is secondary. Tory Burch is a shoe and bag story with apparel paling in comparison.

Accessories are the democratic categories in which women of all ages and sizes can play, women’s apparel is stuck in a highly competitive funk.

Coach was riding high, in the early 2000’s. Their then colorful, fresh, “C” logoed bags were the “it” bags for the aspirational designer masses. Over time, they became ubiquitous, as every hairdresser and soccer mom carried them. As they down-trended, they didn’t follow with renewed  innovation, instead made the critical mistake of looking back and doing a rehash of the sturdy, vintage Legacy styles. These unrefined bags, although colorful, looked like a clunky 1980’s LeBaron instead of a chic 2013 Audi. The competition was forging ahead with exciting materials, color and patterns, like Michael Kors’ glam styles, Kate Spade’s playful totes and tech cases, the silicone Furla Candy bag and styles by Rebecca Minkoff, Marc Jacobs, Ted Baker and Longchamp.

The current assortment is sleepy at best. It feels like a lightly-veiled nod to Salvatore Ferragamo. They played it safe and sexless. There is no emotional must-have draw. Even with 25% off coupons, one is hard pressed to spend the deal. The prospect of a larger selection in the $600 plus range is a miscalculation of opportunity. They need to focus on modern, forward  materials, shapes and details in the $400 range sweet spot; then offer additional showstoppers in the $600 plus range.

Coach went too safe.

Coach went too safe.

A  key asset for Coach is their well-priced, quality shoe line. They offer slightly more wearable shoe heights than Kors and at prices lower than Kate Spade. I hope they don’t think they need to raise prices and heel heights to get a new customer. Maintain the $198 average price point and expand the selection to include more options of fashion-forward sandals, pumps, wedges, loafers and boots.

This great American brand has had a small stumble. When you take fashion risks as good brands do, you will trip-up sometimes. This brand has a cold, but certainly isn’t terminal. They just need the right prescription for renewed health.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Hot Shoe Trend-It’s Good To Be Bad

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better,” so goes the famous quote from May West.

A red-hot holiday 2013 shoe trend is take-no-prisoners, bad-girl shoes. This badass footwear includes moto and over the knee boots , ultra pointy flats and towering pumps decorated with metal studs. Live dangerously and watch them fall into line. Men will swoon. These power shoes mean business, I’m talking monkey business!

It's good to be bad. Badass shoes are red-hot for 2013!

It’s good to be bad. Badass shoes are red-hot for 2013!

Some of the best are from Frye, Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman, Valentino, Christian Louboutin, Sam Edelman, Burberry, etc. Wear with caution as these shoes could get you arrested for disturbing the peace!

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel,  footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

Fashion Faux Pas-Stereotyping Older Consumers

For decades fashion retailers rode the Baby Boomer purchasing wave as they started, advanced and continue their careers. They were the first generation of educated women who fully intended to join the professional ranks, often putting off child-rearing to later in life or never at all. Consequently, they are the most-travelled, wealthiest and most independent women ever in the westernized world.  Retailers are always looking for unmet consumer demand and opportunities.  This large demographic still offers opportunity for companies that don’t fall in the trap of underestimating her, by addressing her with one broad brush.

There is unmet demand for age-appropriate, forward fashion for a 45+ contemporary customer.

There is unmet demand for age-appropriate, forward fashion for a 45+ contemporary customer.

This is the misconception. As all women age, they no longer want to show their figure and take fashion risks. They want cheaper quality and want to disappear into a decorative tunic. I won’t name names, but you all know the colorful, “soft” retailers that subscribe to a stereotypical formula and have hit a ceiling in an aging market. The customer for this type of merchandise is already well-served.

How could brands that target an older customer fail with a burgeoning aging female population? There are many lifestyle and niche markets in men and women of all ages from extremely conservative to fashion-obsessives. It is critical to understand the lifestyle and persona of the target audience and have realistic expectations of the demand.

Many 45+women still have great bodies, a sophisticated fashion sense and plenty of disposable income. They care about their appearance. Many customers don’t want to identify as old and reject the brands that imply it. The designers and retailers who subscribe to a one-size fits all image of this age group are having their matronly hat handed to them.

I know many stylish women in their 40-80’s, that won’t set foot in the well-known specialty stores and sites that target a “so-called” aging consumer with their floaty tops and frumpy pants. In fact, the softer the body, the more flattering structure becomes in a garment. Companies need to consider their specific target woman, values, taste, income and needs.

Of course, people’s bodies change as they age. All apparel companies in any category, have to target an age/body type for their consumer. They have to develop a standard fit, but not necessarily safe product to go with it. In some sense, the notion of a larger fit only for an aging population is becoming debatable, because of rising obesity rates in younger people raised on whipped caramel lattes.

There are fashion-forward contemporary brands such as Theory, Vince, Lululemon, Diane Von Furstenburg, AG, Joie to name a few, who are enjoying great success because they work for a wide range of body types that relate to their brand. Unfortunately the list is short. There is also a male boomer who wants stylish age appropriate contemporary merchandise. Brands like Hugo Boss, Theory, John Varvatos, Robert Graham, AG and Michael Kors are appealing to this ageless male contemporary customer. I believe the men’s business is experiencing robust sales because young men are adopting more dressed up looks for an edge in the job market, the major trend toward slimmer silhouettes and the 45+ customer who is fit, has money and doesn’t want to look old.

Fashion foward shoes & bags have been stand out sellers for all ages. (Valentino Rockstud Ballet Flat)

Fashion foward shoes & bags have been stand out sellers for all ages. (Valentino Rockstud Ballet Flat)

Why have shoes, bags, accessory and beauty products been the standouts categories for years? Partly because these are the democratic categories, in which all women can participate. There is a redundant oversupply of apparel in the market. Opportunity lies in forward, casual, flattering merchandise that accommodates an aging body. It may be a tad longer, less clingy and revealing, but maintain a serious sense of style, quality and sophistication. Simplicity is always in good taste. What is age-appropriate? Appropriateness, more than anything, is a flattering fit.

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Tough Retail: 7 Ways to Grow Your Consumer Brand

Why Fashion Brands Fail to Thrive

 

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, trends, creative direction, brand experience, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

Coach – Stellar to Stumble

On the short-list of first-class American fashion brands, Coach certainly makes the top ten. The nature of market leaders is their willingness to take chances. No one becomes an Olympic skater holding the rail.

Coach fourth quarter 2012 North American sales were down 2% over last year, which sent the stock tumbling this week, in spite of increased international sales. North America accounts for two-thirds of the company’s business.

I have great respect for the aspirational luxury bag and accessory seller. They have turned a 72-year-old leathery dowager into a fashion powerhouse with their risk taking market leadership. There are far too many lackluster brands, that stand for nothing. I give them credit for ground breaking newness and willingness to take bold moves.

As an avid Coach watcher, the answer for the poor results is obvious. For many successful years, they addicted their logo-adoring masses to fresh shapes and colors of their iconic fabric “C” patterns. These signature looks fulfilled the fantasies of mainstream wanna-be social climbers. Unfortunately, the patterned bags have become, all too common on the arms of every stroller pusher and tweeny bopper in the mall.

Fall 2012 Coach Legacy bags

Fall 2012 Coach Legacy bags

They saw this coming. In second half of 2012, they took a radical step and introduced the Legacy collection. I never warmed up to this collection of vintage leather Coach styles in bold colors. They bet the ranch on Legacy and it dominated the second half assortment. I awaited its pending arrival and wanted to love it. Somehow, it didn’t feel modern, and the traditional leathers seemed a bit dowdy in a digital world. Perhaps it is the sea of wristlets and cross-body bags, aimed at an over-indulged teen? It doesn’t have the freshness of their more innovative styling. The only thing it had going for it was color. I give them an A+ for trying. This is the fashion business and leaders sometimes stumble.

CEO, Lew Frankfort is blaming the lack of demand on “competition.” Some say Michael Kors is taking a bigger share. I think the iconic Kors bags with the MK charm, are getting a tad stale, too. Kors does a larger shoe collection and dominates in uber-hot fashion watches. Kors stores have a consistent mix of accessories, apparel and shoes and isn’t reaching for an entry-level teen. I think Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, Tory Burch and others are sucking the aspirational luxury winds in bags.

Coach won’t stay on the rails for long. This champion will bounce back. In bags, I think they need to explore more luxe leathers, modern materials like colorful patent leather and even silicone, as well as bold new shapes. They are talking about relaunching their shoe collection. I think their shoes offer tremendous value in terms of fashion quality to price. Expanding fashion jewelry and watches is an opportunity as well. Stay tuned. See Coach.com

Fall 2012 Coach loafers - A modern twist on a classic

Fall 2012 Coach loafers – A modern twist on a classic

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

6 Reasons Fashion Brands Fail to Thrive

Many apparel, shoe or accessory brands fail to grow, thrive or evolve over time. Fashion is discretionary. Clothing, footwear,  jewelry, handbags and accessories are emotionally driven purchases. Brands are much more than products, they are a total experience.

Consumers must identify with the implied promise of the brand to become loyal customers. Here is a slide show of the 6 main reasons that fashion brands fail to thrive and some of the stellar brands that are knocking it out of the park:

She doesn’t have to have it….

For the past several years women’s apparel sales have been lackluster. Handbags and shoes have taken the spotlight and continued to outperform while apparel languishes. The excitement in shoe and bag design is palpable. Designers have continued to up-the-ante in footwear and bags, in bold colors, fresh materials and pushed the limits on new shapes. Confidence has spurred a creative explosion in these categories. This has added up to multiple seasons of big personality accessories winning hearts and wallets, in a down cycle of consumer sentiment.

Women’s apparel is another story. Here are several reasons for the depressed fashion phenomenon.

There is a lack of creative risk taking in apparel by wholesalers and retail merchants; call it retail sameness, fear of failure, wholesale and retail firms have a bad case of stage fright. They’re driving with eyes in the rear view mirror and trading down on quality. Many look to the past for the future and figure the safe road is the way to hunker down. Recessionary assortments of apparel are a counter intuitive bland diet for a customer with no appetite. Consumers have to be stopped in their tracks and wined and dined with fresh novelty and must-have styling.

There is a dearth of contemporary brands for the wealthiest segment of the market. Boomers+ have the money, but there is a lack of fashion forward casual brands suitable for the aging customer. This segment must choose between dowdy mature offerings or “do I look foolish” in this uber-short contemporary dress? Consequently, they turn to forward accessories to look current without looking like a sorry soul. This is an opportunity to reach a big underserved market.

Size matters. There is a lack of larger sizes for an “expanding” population of all ages. Women bigger than a size 12 or 14 can’t find much in most specialty or in mainstream areas of department stores. A huge part of the population is literally ignored. Larger women have to turn to the democratic accessory and beauty departments for a fashion update.

It is frustrating to shop for apparel in traditional store formats. Most women today are strapped for time, have short attention spans and an overwhelming sea of options. It is difficult to shop for an item, when most department and specialty stores are organized by collection.  If she needs a white top, she is forced to shop a whole store or department to find the item. A harried consumer will bypass department stores for the ease of shopping a simpler format with item depth, like J. Crew. Handbags, shoes, cosmetics, jeans and lingerie tend to outperform other areas. These departments are classifications, not collections and easier to shop. Part of the rapid growth of online shopping is that it simplifies the process. It quickly nets the offer to classifications.

The best accessories come from wholesale branded companies like Prada, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Longchamp, Coach, Michael Kors, to name a few. Bags and shoes are two areas where there is little private label. Consumers are validated by brand authenticity and the inherent status of branded accessories. For the most part, private label apparel is subject to large committees of leadership, who all put their stamp on the offer. Subsequently, they can water down the soup.

Accessories are the easiest way to update last year’s wardrobe. Apparel like accessories, is an emotional buy. It is unfortunate that most traffic doesn’t covert to a sale, only a disappointed customer. Compelling merchandise is the key way to improve conversions. If wholesaler and retailers continue to offer vanilla assortments, the consumer will continue to spend her disposable income on the latest accessories and technology.

 The following pictures are “best-foot-forward” displays from some major retailers. Their brand identities are indistinguishable. Do you think “she’s gotta have” this merchandise?

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix&Pond consulting…strategic and creative product development and brand consulting.

Big Runway for Michael Kors

The Gia Satchel from Michael Kors for Spring 2012.

The Gold Python Michael Kors "Gia" Satchel

Michael Kors Holdings, LTD recently announced their first quarterly earning report since their recent successful IPO, on December 15. Not surprisingly , they were exceptional, in fact their revenues were up for third quarter by 67.9% and comp store sales were up 38%. The red-hot company is planning to open 20-30 more stores in North America in fiscal 2013, as well as many more stores in Europe and Japan.

Michael Kors’ business today is a hard-won success after a long career of ups and downs. His appearance in Project Runway helped to make him a household name in the US, but his brand speaks for itself. The company offers the designer Michael Kors luxury collection and the aspirational Michael Michael Kors lower priced line. He has created an urbane brand of sexy, glamorous pieces for sophisticated city slickers (or wannabes). There is no doubt about what you can expect in his free-standing stores: sharp and sexy shoes, statement signature bags, bold  jewelry, power-hungry watches and tight collections of sleek, wearable apparel. His direct, social and online marketing are unswervingly messaged. 

Clear brand vision gets rewarded with growth consistent with the size of your market niche, i.e. Ralph Lauren, Coach, Anthroplogie, Lululemon, Vera Bradley, etc. Kors aspirational luxury niche is a large and viable one, so he has a big growth trajectory ahead of him. The Michael Kors brand isn’t yet as well-known as Coach, which makes his future prospects even greater. There aren’t many mall competitors other than BCBG, chasing his fashion saavy, urbane audience. BCBG tends to be a tad more youthful and contemporary so their apparel fits are more challenging to an audience over 40. Smartly, Michael Kors has focused on ageless accessories, apparel is more of a punctuation to the story. (BCBG has some very formidable accessories, but focuses on clothing.) Kors reports that 62.3% of sales come from accessories and fragrances. Women’s apparel in general, has become more of a commodity, where bags and shoes still offer better turns and pricing power.

The runway is long and wide for a big take-off for Michael Kors!

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