Get on the good foot

Outwear footwear market

Outdoor footwear is thriving.

The European Outdoor Group recently reported a rise of 6.7% in 2017 outdoor product sales with the apparel, backpack and accessory categories all contributing healthily. But undoubtedly, footwear was the runaway performer, climbing 13.4% to a retail value of €3.7bn.

So, what is driving this growth?

Technical Innovation

Gone are the days of clunky cleated clogs. Outdoor footwear has become a hotbed of cutting-edge manufacturing with new production techniques improving support, durability, and waterproofing, while also significantly reducing the weight of the product.

It is no coincidence that the most successful footwear brands have also been the most innovative. The British brand Inov-8 reported a 20% increase in orders following the release of its 'G-Series' trail and off-road running shoes, the first running shoe to use graphene in the outsole. The material has 2010 Nobel Prize credentials and is claimed to deliver large increases in strength and grip.

Meanwhile, Tecnica, the popular Italian brand, has reported a 30% rise in footwear sales this year thanks to its 'Forge' boot, which uses proprietary thermo-forming equipment to adapt the footbed, heel and arch to the individual’s foot shape. Technology does not mean unaffordability, the G-Series retail around £130, the Forge boots, £220.

Function meets fashion

There is conscious irony in how the technical and aesthetic elements of outdoor footwear have entered high-fashion. The metropolitan parading of the fashion-world could hardly be further from the rugged environment outdoor footwear is designed for.

Yet, in a turn of events which owes much to the 'maximalist' trainer trend born of designers such as Raf Simons and Juun J, Salomon and Merrell products have entered streetwear stalwarts such as the Palace Lookbook and Soto Berlin. As the collaboration between Salomon and The Broken Arm Paris enters its second year, it's clear that outdoor footwear manufacturers are considering following apparel brands such as the North Face in entering the massive lifestyle market.

Recipe for success

Brands which manage to combine function and fashion are perfectly positioned. You’ll find the unmistakable bright colour-ways of Hoka One One’s 'Speedgoat 2' sneaker advertised on RunnersNeed as a technical trail-running shoe and on Farfetch as style statement. The 47% growth experienced by the brand last year, with annual sales reaching $153m, shows just how successful this dual audience approach can be.

A firm footing?

Technical innovation will continue to support outdoor footwear growth. New 3D bonding and moulding technologies promise to deliver further step-changes in footwear performance and fuel fresh products sales.

However, fashion is fickle. In a world where every influencer is jumping on the latest trend, quickly burdening and sinking it, little can be taken for granted. Yet perhaps an outdoor footwear industry with a new-found taste for lifestyle fashion will be able to adapt to the changing tastes of that audience, even if Balenciaga-style `maximalism' gives way to more muted minimalism.

There’s reason to believe in outdoor footwear's resilience. Its association with quality, authenticity and sustainability will continue to have strong currency with consumers, whether they belong to growing numbers of trail or trend enthusiasts.

Felix Wheatley