Adam Derrick, founder of New York-based men’s leather footwear brand To Boot, waited years for the perfect moment before branching out into women’s wear.
“There was a long period of 10 or 15 years where the designer shoe market for women was exclusively high heels and stilettos, and stuff that’s out of my wheelhouse,” Derrick said. “I wanted to do something that felt organic, something that had a natural connection with what I already do for men. We are starting with sneakers because they are hot for men and women.”
The prevalence of sneakers and athleisure (athletic footwear alone is predicted to reach $95.14 billion by 2025), two categories where men’s and women’s align more closely in terms of aesthetics and trends, has helped foster a feeling of boldness among brands to explore outside of their traditional demographics. It is now easier than ever for brands who focus exclusively on menswear to make the jump to women’s, thanks to the relatively smaller gap between them stylistically.
“Men’s and women’s have a lot of synergy right now,” Derrick said. “It’s easier to insert into the market at this moment.”
For the 5-yer-old men’s activewear brand Vuori, the blurring lines between men’s and women’s clothes from an aesthetic perspective has increased consumer demand for brands catering to both men and women.
“We always knew Vuori would be a multi-gender brand based on our community involvement and the individuals drawn to our events, the men’s product and just the brand in general,” said Joe Kudla, founder and CEO of Vuori. “We have offered small boutique women’s collections in the past but have had growing interest from our dealers, customers and community to offer a broader assortment that includes women’s.”
To Boot and Vuori are among the many brands typically dedicated to just men’s or women’s wear that are now branching out into other categories. Custom suit supplier Sene, which has always been traditionally men’s-focused, also just launched its first attempt to break into the women’s wear world. In doing so, these brands are able to tap into an entire half of the population that was unavailable to them before.
A challenge for many brands branching out in this way is striking a balance between making products that are distinct from their original lines while still feeling consistent with the brand’s design philosophy. The obvious and less effective route for men’s brands creating their first women’s collection is to make the same thing but in pink – something Derrick has tried to avoid.
“What I didn’t want — and I wasn’t happy with my first women’s samples because of this — was for the women’s shoes to look like small men’s shoes and not like women’s shoes,” Derrick said. “I tried to take the same aesthetic and feminize it in an understated way. It’s just a matter of finding the right details.”
These brands need to consider everything from sizing to audience-building as they branch out into new demographics.
For brands like Suit Supply, which opened its first women’s store called Suistudio in September, adapting designs to fit the new demographic seems to be a much bigger priority than trying to predict the difference in shopping habits between men and women.
“When it comes to this category, there’s not much difference in how men and women shop,” Suitsupply founder and CEO Fokke de Jong told Glossy in September. “We’ve found all the clichés to be untrue: Women are not more fickle, and they don’t want to spend time browsing.”
The trend also goes the other way. Some notable women’s brands have recently made the leap to the booming menswear market: There was Celine’s now infamous first foray into men’s, led by Hedi Slimane, and the debut men’s collections from Prabal Gurung and Tibi for spring 2019.
Madewell also made a splash last month when it launched its first men’s collection at Nordstrom and online. The expansion was likely partially inspired by the flagging sales of Madewell’s parent company J. Crew and Madewell’s comparative success. In a statement issued with the announcement of the launch, Madewell president Libby Wadle referred to the expansion as a “logical next step” for the brand.