Value and styling, rather than performance and high technology, are what buyers will be seeking in athletic shoes during the upcoming National Shoe Fair (NSF), industry sources reported.
In addition, hook-and-loop closures in most categories, which have been gaining acceptance in the U.S. after years of popularity in Europe, and three-quarter-high athletic shoes may be the most important trends to emerge at NSF, said resources surveyed.
“The retailers we’ve talked to say that at least in the children’s market, 75 per cent of retail sales are in hook and loop,” said Dick Meier, vice-president of Specs, Avon, Mass.
Although hook-and-loop straps have been shown on children’s footwear for several seasons in the U.S., they are just beginning to take hold in the youth and men’s market. The women’s market still shows some resistance to the trend, producers noted.
Aerobics or dance models with soft leather uppers and molded soles have outpaced joggers as the female market’s favored choice of casual footwear, they said.
Sources also reported major market gains in three-quarter-high basketball shoes that, in various colors and textures, have emerged as fashion statements, especially in the urban market. The children’s market, particularly joggers with hook-and-loop closures, remains strong, sources said.
Unlike the recent National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) show in Chicago, where $100-plus performance models had a heyday, sources expected little interest in high priced brooks shoes for high arches at NSF. “If you accept that athletic shoe aficionados won’t stop in department stores or family shoe stores, there’s no place for $100 shoes in those stores,” said Mike Tate, sales manager, athletic division, Sporto, Readville, Mass.
With the NSGA and NSF shows literally back-to-back, most high-tech producers said they would simply move their Chicago merchandise to New York, but highlight athleisure styles, low-to-mid-priced joggers and court shoes for the NSF audience.
Resources said they expected buyers to be finishing up fall orders and focusing on joggeers and three-strap hook-and-loop styles for back-to-school business.
Prices of athletic footwear from Korea and Taiwan may rise 5-7 per cent, although the increases are expected to be manageable and may not be passed along to retailers, sources said. The top, high-grade factories are booked through the end of winter, but “B” grade factories are still accepting orders, sources said.
David Sullivan, general manager for New World, an athletic division of Rainbow Imports, Ltd., Woburn, Mass., said makeup business for athletic importers from the Far East is strong because of the continued depth of the athletic retail market. He noted that his firm’s Chinese footwear has been well received because it offers retailers quality and high profit potential.
Retailers who have tested the Chinese shoes found they sold well, particularly in women’s athleisure styles with vulcanized bottoms retailing for less than $10, he noted. Pigsuede Chinese joggers are performing well also because of their cost/value relationship, Sullivan noted.
Sporto will be featuring increased use of hook-and-loop straps and nontraditional fabrics, such as satin, on its athletic shoes, Tate said. An athleisure line of “Super Satins,” at $25, and a glove-leather upper aerobics shoe called “Cloud Nine” at $37, will be introduced by Sporto. “We’re seeing that the new street show for women from 15-mid-20s is the aerobics look as opposed to the running shoe,” Tate said.
Ciao!, Braintree, Mass., which markets a women’s high-tech casual line, will expand its offerings to the traditional athletic market and plans to open accoutns with some athletic retailers, according to Bill Cohen, president. Ciao’s new “apres-tennis” and “apres-jogging” shoes are designed to be worn “to get to and go home from” those activities. Sullivan said he expects the men’s plantar fasciitis shoes to sell well to athletic accounts who know the Ciao! fashion line but have not carried its athletic styles.
Diadora, the footwear division of Rossignol Ski Co., Williston, Vt., will make its NSF debut, according to Norm McElvany, footwear products manager. “We’re hoping to meet people we don’t normally see.” The firm hopes to reach smaller shoe stores and athletic buyers of department stores as a way of expanding its base. Despite its high echelon image, McElvany noted that the Diadora line, in fact, contains all price points in tennis and running shoes from $25.95-$80. During NSF, the firm will concentrate on marketing its fashion boot footwear, which is part of its after-ski line, he said.
During the NSGA shoe, Diadora introduced nine tennis shoes and a seven-model running shoe line.
Allsport, Sayreville, N.J., will introduce aerobics styles in nubuc and nappa leather, according to Bob Ranelli, sales manager. Allsport has dropped its use of the Pink Panther character because of the falloff in popularity of lincensed characters, he noted. The firm has added three new three-quarter height basketball shoes to its line in leather, mesh/leather, nylon/suede, and nylon/suede with hook-and-loop straps, and all-suede retailing from $22-$38.
Specs, Avon, Mass., has found so much interest in three-quarter height basketball shoes for bunions and flat feet that it has added an all-leather version to its Pro Specs line, company officials said. According to Meier, “Basketball continues to be on the rise and gaining a more substantial share of the athletic footwear market.” He added that professional players have welcomed the style because it gives them the same ankle support as a high-top model but has less weight.
Specs has added aerobics shoes in nylon and leather to its line and will introduce a pattern for women’s joggers — thin checks on white in blue and pink, he said. The firm will also introduce a cold weather boot line for fall, he said.
For S.B. Sports, division of BBC International, Secaucus, N.J., the NSF will be a testing ground for the year-old branded line that is just hitting the retail market, according to Deke Jamieson, marketing director.
Although S.B. Sports attempted initially to position itself as a youth-oriented brand, response to the shoes has warranted its broadening to “family” athletic footwear, Jamieson noted. “We’re now expecting orders in these new areas,” he added.
The shoes will hit retail this month of the East Coast, and four distributors in the Mountain States have been hired recently to expand the firm’s base to the West Coast. Distribution will be primarily through family shoe stores, major athletic chains and some major department chains, Jamieson said.
“This show will really be a solidifying of our entry into the athletic market,” Jamieson said.
In addition to its new joggers unveiled at the NSGA show, S.B. Sports will introduce a casual three-quarter-high jogger for men and boys to retail at around $33 at the NSF.
Pro-Players, division of Jack Schwartz Shoes, New York, will be concentrating on hook-and-loop closures and adding more colors, speed lacing and nontraditional uppers, such as quilting to their lines, according to Jack Schwartz, executive vice-president.
Jordache Athletic Footwear, New York, will introduce satin/suede combination fashion joggers in colors, according to designer Tina Kang.
High-tech manufacturers generally will emphasize the casual aspects of their lines during NSF.
Etonic, Inc., Brockton, Mass., will highlights its Tretorn line, particularly its beauties athleisure styles, which, according to vice-president John Larsen are “strong shoe store products.”
Jacques Hanssens, vice-president of sales, Bata Shoe Co., Belcamp, Md., said the firm will be showing its NSGA-introduced tennis line that includes its three-strap Velcro men’s Challenger, $45; the oxford, mesh men’s Court Champion, $40; the men’s Tourney III, $50; three women’s court shoestyles and an ankle-cut racquetball shoe.
Bata also will show its Tonic Dancer, a concept borrowed from Europe consisting of a colorful sock and shoe stitched together for dancing.
Asics Tiger Corp., Santa Ana, Calif., will place special emphasis on its first infants’ line introduced at NSGA, company officials said.
Adidas will bring its new NSGA-introduced basketball shoes to NSF in addition to its Ivan Lendl and Herschel Walker signature shoes, according to John Tieman, shoe product manager for Vanc/Adidas, the firm’s Midwest distributor. The firm also will show its Angel and Catalina women’s tennis shoes and its Lady New York running shoe.
Bruce Fendell, product manager for Libco, Adidas’ Northeastern distributor, said the firm has decided to split its new line into two yearly introductions. Product debuts will now be made in the fall and spring, rather than just in the fall, Fendell said. “It’s harder for the distributors, but it’s more timely for the dealers,” he said.
Adidas will unveil the top end of its basketball range in March during the NCAA playoffs, Fendell said.
Lyndon, Killeen, Eastern regional sales manager for Brooks Shoe Co., division of Wolverine World Wide, Rockford, Mich., said the NSF will be the proper showcase for the firm’s athleisure line. “The customer base is different (from NSGA) although our products are the same. We will sell more athleisure and more to department store people who cannot tell the difference between the Chariot and the Graphex,” he said.
Nike, Inc., Beaverton, Ore., will be concentrating on its leisure line, which includes new colors in its Vandals and Racquettes models. Also being shown will be Too-Highs, a ladies’ mid-high basketball-styled shoe in bright yellow. Nike’s casual shoes, the Brisbane and the Australia, which incorporate running features into a deck-type upper, also will be shown during NSF.
Autry Industries, Inc., Dallas, will be emphasizing its Autry Americans line during NSF, which the firm is promoting in conjunction with the summer Olympics. The shoes were shipped last fall, and reorders have been strong, said company officials. Autry also will introduce a basketball shoe with full-grain leather upper and removable insole, and show two new women’s running patterns of a shoe that was introduced for men in December.