What’s New & Niche-y
Material Innovations Give Traction to Footwear that Makes a Statement.
A grab bag of market trends set the pace for this season’s footwear collections. Sustainability, vegan, plant-based, and performance all come into play in styles that feature material innovations developed for a modern eco-active, value-driven consumer lifestyle. In other words, shoes launched this Fall tell the story of what you eat, how you exercise, and where you stand on issues like climate change and animal welfare.
Advances in textiles are providing shoe designers with more, and better, options when it comes to eco alternatives that are durable, functional and aesthetically on-trend, whether that is synthetic leathers, recycled canvas, or materials made from bio-waste. Enhanced green manufacturing, wider availability of sustainably-sourced materials and greater efforts around textiles that are responsibly-produced are key to the latest footwear developments.
Easier access to these materials is giving rise to new niche categories. Emerging this season, for example, are “eco-vegan,”and “plant-based vegan,” shoes where once there was just “vegan.” The performance shoe category has been a frontrunner in this trend, with “performance lifestyle,” and “sustainable performance,” but the range of materials to support these claims continues to climb with new functional, eco-friendly textiles for uppers, foams and components.
The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) recently released its 2021 Sustainability Benchmark Report, which surveyed more than 100 shoe professionals about what their companies were doing, measuring, and focusing on when it comes to sustainability. The survey revealed that shoe companies are increasingly working to measure environmental impacts; 38 percent of respondents say their company is tracking impacts, with another 48 percent saying they will do so within the next 12 months. In addition nearly half of those surveyed are asking material suppliers for certification, highlighting interest in traceability, and 69 percent of companies plan on using some type of bio material or recycled material in upcoming lines.
Tracking Growth In Eco Initiatives
A new resale program initiated by an adidas x thredUp collab, aims to help extend the lifecycle of sports performance and lifestyle apparel and footwear. Called “Choose to Give Back” the program is another example of textile sustainability and circularity driving trends in the footwear field. Consumers will be able to send used product from any brand back to adidas via the adidas Creator’s Club app to be reused or resold.
Katja Schreiber, adidas SVP of sustainability, says, “We believe that great performance shouldn’t come at the cost of the environment. That’s why we’re committed to establishing a circular future for sportswear, and with the Choose to Give Back program are helping people to see new possibilities to give old gear new life.”
By giving used clothes and shoes the opportunity to be reused or repurposed on a larger scale, adidas and thredUP hope to encourage more circular habits among consumers, says Pooja Sethi, SVP and GM of Resale-as-a-Service (RaaS) at thredUP. “By enabling resale at scale with customizable solutions for leading brands and retailers, we’re keeping high-quality clothes in use longer and fighting fashion waste,” says Sethi.
While sustainability and social values steal most of the spotlight this season, performance technology still shines as a trend and growth category. NPD Group’s latest “Future of Footwear” report states that revenue growth within the performance- and outdoor-footwear categories will outperform the growth in the overall footwear market in 2023. According to NPD findings, “after strong growth in 2021, spurred by running and walking shoes, performance footwear is forecasted to stay steady, at rates slightly higher than before the pandemic, and unit sales will increase.”
Taking performance up a notch, or two or three, is also part of this niche shoe story. Use of carbon fiber for the first time propels the trail running category forward, while Mizuno steps into the future with a shoe designed in collaboration with acclaimed Japanese illustrator, Hajime Sorayama.
Here’s a selection of styles using statement-making materials and textile technology to stand out in the season ahead.
Grounded People: Sneakers
Grounded People’s mission to “foster sustainability not just as a fashion choice but as a way of life” is reflected in the footwear firm’s debut vegan collection. The sneakers, available in low-cut and high-top styles, are crafted from ethically-sourced, recycled, and undyed cotton canvas for the uppers and linings, feature a biodegradable non-toxic foam insole, and a vulcanized natural latex rubber outsole. Each pair is almost entirely handcrafted by highly-skilled artisans at the world’s only 100 percent vegan factory located in Brazil, according to the company. To further enhance its goals, Grounded People has established LACES (Learn to Achieve and Create Everlasting Sustainability) that allows consumers to select the color of the shoe laces that correspond to a specific partner organization and thereby proudly show wearable statements of support to those causes. Grounded People contributes proceeds to the chosen charities.
Naot’s new Plant-Based Leather collection features colorful, zero-impact shoes with material made from biomass. The “leather” upper material is created from agricultural waste such as hemp, pineapple leaves, coconut, banana and water hyacinth in collaboration with Nova Milan, an Israeli-based firm specializing in plant-based product technology. “Fashion is a language with the force to send powerful messages, and after a trying year and a half of seclusion, Naot aims to spread a message of lightness, joy and inclusivity,” shared Hagit Ronen Tenenbaum, future designer at Naot.
Every component of Blundstone’s two new vegan Chelsea boots has been rigorously tested and certified vegan. “Awarding Blundstone with the Vegan Verification Mark and Certification for their vegan footwear range gives the market a clear message about their commitment to validation of their vegan product claims,” states Georgina Mawer, head of Eurofins/Chem-MAP, Vegan Verification program. Vegan textiles featured in the boots include: a water-resistant vegan microfiber upper with abrasion resistance; a 100 percent breathable microfiber lining with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties; certified vegan removable Comfort Lite Footbed with durable anti-compression materials; and an ergonomically-engineered toe spring combined with vegan XRD Technology in the heel to further reduce wearer fatigue abd increase comfort.
HOKA’s latest performance offerings feature carbon fiber in one model and new foam material in the other. Coined after the earth’s tectonic plates, which inspired its parallel carbon fiber plate design, HOKA’s new Tecton X looks to cause a “seismic shift” in trail running. Built for speed and bolstered by a Vibram Megagrip with Litebase construction outsole for traction, the ProFlyX midsole merges a light, responsive foam base and ultra-soft foam underfoot. HOKA’s first trail shoe to incorporate parallel carbon fiber plates, the Tecton X is finished with single-layer jacquard engineered mesh for a snug, comfortable fit. HOKA’s Kawana model pushes the boundaries of HOKA foams and geometries. The newest foam provides solid rebound without packing out, and delivers a well-balanced ride. The outsole with “SwallowTail” geometry, and beveled heel offers a broader, flatter surface designed for smoother heel strikes.
Mizuno: Into The Future
The new Wave Prophecy Sorayama, the second collaboration between Mizuno and Hajime Sorayama, brings together Mizuno’s structural technology and Sarayama’s sleek, futuristic artistic vision. The shoe’s sole is structured to make it lighter and more flexible, and features a silver top wave and a tire-patterned outsole. The midsole is constructed by incorporating translucent, unique materials.