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As an industry, we get quite excited about the automobile and the leather goods aspects of our business and this is where the growth has been in recent years. All through the past hundred years, footwear has been far bigger and even the most pessimistic view of what has been happening in the past few years still has footwear using about twice the volume of leather as the two other sectors added together.
So, for a good while yet what is going on in footwear (the styles, the constructions, the alternate materials, the consumer attitudes) really is important. There are a few questions we need to ask. If consumers really want sustainable footwear that lasts a long time and can be repaired then why are more shoes being made of plastic, which fail on both counts?
If men’s welted footwear is to perform in all weathers, why are they steadily converting to lighter weight, less durable sole leather?
If consumers are comfortable with textile and plastic, why is there a resurgence in high end leather sneakers: not just for nostalgic boomers but for youngsters who queue all night and feel deprived if they do not get them?
Fear of missing out (FOMO) is no joke in the world of trainers. Not just the luxury brands, but also the mainstream sports brands such as Nike and Adidas are heading back to expensive leather footwear. “Is Nike now luxury brand?” one study asked a little while ago. I bought my first Nike sneakers last month in over thirty years. Not the greatest leather in the world but definitely the real thing as promised, and for a jump up quite a few are offering quite beautiful vegetable tanned uppers.
While we know that a thriving high-end leather trainer sector does not imply that all is well for leather it certainly suggests the segments are changing and need re-examining. More men are buying shoes, so that the concept of high volume footwear purchases all being female driven needs to be reconsidered. This is the athleisure world which is no simple fad, much more of a long term structural change.
For too long we have worked with segments in footwear as being men, women and children and as black (formal), brown (casual and outdoor) and white (sneakers and sports footwear). Today, the world steadily evolves and the genders mix, the boundaries between categories blur and overlap. Women buy more trainers and sneakers than high heeled shoes, just as men buy more trainers than more traditional wing tips and loafers. The consumer is far from static as closing footwear chains will testify. In most markets, the supply chain has already adjusted to a range of new segments emerging along with changing attitudes in our societies.
If the consumer is changing, the tanner must change also. Leather is the most versatile element in all this. Let us be sure we are not enshrining old categories but watching to see how we can use our leather and can match the expectations of today’s consumer. While still offering durability, repairability and sustainability, and happy cows.
28th June 2017
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