This week, an exploration of sneakers’ long-term potential and a closer look at Bloomingdale’s new store concept.
The pandemic gave women the green light to wear more comfortable shoes.
That may be the biggest long-term impact of the past year-and-a-half on fashion. High heels are at risk of becoming a relic of fashion B.C. (before Covid-19), regarded in the same way we think of pantyhose: Why did we do that to ourselves? Sudden cultural changes have proven the potential for such shifts. During World War II, women went to work and began wearing pants. In 2020, women stopped going into the office and started prioritizing comfort while working at home. Now, female consumers are driving a new era of footwear by buying more sneakers, along with other easy, flat styles. And brands and retailers are increasingly fueling demand with new products and merchandise focuses.
If the recent runways are any indication of fashion’s direction, much of the buzzy move to comfort will be consolidated on women’s feet. On its resort 2022 runway last month, Dior showed sneakers with red carpet-worthy dresses. And in its fall 2021 couture show this week, Jean Paul Gaultier’s finale gowns were paired with the brand’s newly launched sneakers, created in collaboration with Nike and Sacai.
A flurry of women’s fashion brands has been releasing sneakers for the first time, including Anine Bing on June 29. The brand’s ’90s-inspired “dad sneaker” was teased on its social channels and e-commerce site, and saw a 50% higher opt-in for the emailed launch notification, compared to previously launched styles across categories, said Olivia Gentin, COO at Anine Bing. Other brands have recently returned to the category, including Isabel Marant, with a new iteration of its cult-favorite heeled style, and Staud launched a third New Balance collaboration. On June 30, Acne Studios released a $700 glittered version of the 08STLHM sneaker style for women.
Tacking the word “Sport” onto a fashion brand name is a ticket to enter the activewear category Since January, Anine Bing, Solid & Striped and Parade are among brands that have gone there, following the lead of Tory Burch and Adam Selman. Outfitting the customer for every facet of their life is typically cited as the reason for expansion.
As sneakers are increasingly being regarded as part of a wear-everywhere uniform, it’s no surprise that several of these brands (Tory Burch Sport, Anine Bing Sport, Solid & Striped via collaborations) have introduced them. And it would make sense that, as more fashion workers go back to their offices, fewer will feel the need to keep an under-the-desk collection of high heels.
“We’ve styled our shoes [in marketing] with everything from evening dresses and tailored suits to casual sweat sets,” said Wayne Kulkin, CEO of 7-year-old Italian sneaker brand P448.
“The beauty of sneakers is how versatile they are,” echoed Moses Rashid, founder and CEO of U.K.-based sneaker and streetwear resale site The Edit LDN. “If you’re a woman wearing a dress and a pair of [Nike] Dunks today, you look equally as cool as if you’re a guy wearing jeans with the style.”
He said women’s attitudes around sneakers have been changing since the launch of Off-White, as well as the “pivotal” runway show in 2017 featuring Louis Vuitton’s Supreme collaboration. “Now, the trend coming out of Covid and going back into work is centered around comfort,” he said, predicting that current priorities will further power the market’s trajectory.
Clearly, there’s interest. A TikToker who goes by Yoel (@nyc.yoel) has earned more than 380,000 followers by posting almost exclusively about women’s sneakers since January. A March post in which he prompts, “Guys, get these Jordans for your girlfriend,” has 6 million views.
The Edit LDN’s name is the result of The Edit Man London’s rebrand, motivated by its booming women’s business, announced in May. In March 2021, its women shoppers surpassed 50% of its total customer base for the first time. Its core shopper base is 25- to 35-years old, and Yeezy, Jordan, Louis Vuitton and Off-White are among its most-shopped brands. Last year, its best-seller was the Off-White x Air Jordan sneaker, which launched as a women’s style.
Rashid said that women are buying more pairs of shoes but styles that are more affordable, compared to The Edit LDN’s men shoppers. Most of their purchases are under £300, or $413. “They’re used to buying handbags that cost up to £5,000. Now that they want to buy a Jordan Mid, it’s nothing for them to buy it.”
On the same note, GOAT chief brand officer Sen Sugano told Glossy in February that the company’s fastest-growing shopper demographics were women and international shoppers, and that its women’s audience was growing twice as fast as its men’s. Today, 40% of its customers are women.
“There is massive growth in the women’s fashion sneaker arena,” said Kulkin. To date, 84% of the brand’s 2021 sales have been to women in the U.S.
Sneaker brands have evolved from their “pink it and shrink it” mindset for catering to women; many are now simply expanding their styles’ size ranges to fit women’s smaller feet. In response, Olympian Allyson Felix, who left a Nike partnership in 2019, launched a shoe company in June catering to “underserved” women by designing shoes.
But the shoe giants of the world are also working to be more inclusive. “We talk about the rise of the female sneakerhead, and the brands are helping to boost that,” said Rashid, pointing to the recent brand collaborations with women including Nike’s with stylist and model Aleali May. “Even if it’s the same shoe [as the men’s version] that they’re selling to women, having that ‘W’ on the box makes all the difference to the shopper. They want the Hypebae, not the Hypebeast.”
The reigning look for women’s sneakers, just like in the men’s market, is chunky, with thick soles. But overall, it’s safe to say that the rise of the category is not a trend.
According to Gentin, Anine Bing’s new sneaker fits the brand because of its versatility and timelessness. Though it’s part of the brand’s Sport collection, the brand is showing it styled with ready-to-wear pieces more than half the time, she said.
“In the last 18 months, a lot of brands saw wild swings in what their customers were looking for and shopping for. We had more stability because we speak to one specific end-user and we don’t swing with the trends,” she said. “Our customer knows that what she’ll find in our offering are pieces she’ll wear from day to night and continue to love over time — not just a moment in time.”
Gentin said that Anine Bing is focused on creating “meaningful businesses in a variety of categories,” and that it plans to roll out more sneaker styles within the year.
5 questions about Bloomie’s, with Bloomingdale’s
On Wednesday, Bloomingdale’s announced that the first location of its new store concept, dubbed Bloomie’s, will open on August 26 in Fairfax, Virginia. The store is set to be much smaller than Bloomingale’s stores, at 22,000 square feet, and will feature a highly curated, ever-evolving product selection. Bells and whistles like a tech-enabled stylist service and a restaurant will also be included. Denise Magid, Bloomingdale’s evp and gmm of ready-to-wear, center core, concessions and outlets, shared with Glossy what shoppers can expect from the concept.
Is this the future of Bloomingdale’s?
“Bloomie’s is one component of our commitment to our physical store experiences. Its assortment and experience have been built to complement the market and our larger Bloomingdale’s stores within it. It also gives us the opportunity to have a lab for learning and experimentation.”
Are you targeting a new customer with the new store concept?
“We have two powerful existing Bloomingdale’s stores in the area and a vibrant online business, so Bloomie’s enters a market where customers know our brand. It will attract new customers, but also engage our existing loyal customers with a shopping experience that offers [everything] they already love, [but] in a smaller, even more convenient location.”
What was the merchandising strategy?
“Our approach to Bloomie’s was unlike any of our other stores. Our team curated the assortment based on the contemporary and casual nature of the concept, the newest fashion of the season, and the local lifestyle of the customer. We were strategic in selecting the right categories and brands [which will include Ganni, Staud and Cult Gaia], some of which are new to the market and some are new to Bloomingdale’s overall. That means a distinct selection across price points, from trend-driven denim to designer shoes to luxury fragrances and skin care.”
What are consumers’ expectations of the retailers they support?
“Customers want to be inspired, and Bloomie’s delivers on this expectation with the combination of its distinct curation of fashion and beauty, its convenient services, and its ongoing events and activations, all in an approachable environment. The store was designed to create a sense of discovery and to be part of the community and our customer’s daily routine. You can explore the latest trends, grab a bite at Colada Shop, see the new drop from your favorite designer or work with a stylist to revamp your wardrobe.”
How did the pandemic inform this store model, if at all?
“Bloomie’s is designed to be more casual, more comfortable, and something that fits into your everyday life. And, Bloomie’s offers a variety of services that meet our customer’s lifestyles, whether they want to buy online for convenient in-store pickup, drop off a return or pick up an outfit for a night out.”
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