It’s been a wild ride so far for the athletic footwear and activewear markets in 2020. 

Athletic footwear sales for January and February combined were up in the low single digits, a good start to the year. Then the pandemic hit, dragging March sales down by about -40% and April by around -50% — the worst month I’ve ever seen. The market had some reprieve in May as sales improved to a low single-digit decline, and June bounced back up by about 25% — one of the best months we’ve ever seen — driven by a huge increase in limited edition releases. 

While the gain in June was a relief, it was not enough to offset the earlier, weak results. Combined, athletic footwear sales in the first half declined in the low teens compared to 2019, across the men’s, women’s, and kids’ markets. I believe the sales trend will be weak for the balance of the year.

By channel, mid-tier department stores and shoe chains were down about -20% in the first six months of the year, while athletic specialty/sporting goods declined in the high singles. Premium department stores only saw a low single-digit decline.

Sport lifestyle, the largest category, declined in the mid-singles, though it was helped by the additional releases.

Performance running shoes were down in the low teens, but there were encouraging signs in June. During recession, running typically does better than the overall market. Performance basketball continued to struggle, with sales down about -20%.

Sport slides, which continue to ride the comfort trend, declined in the mid-singles, while outdoor and water sandals were down more than a third. Skate shoes declined by about -25%.

Looking at brand specifics for the first half, Nike brand declined in the high singles, while Brand Jordan grew in the low teens on account of increased releases. Converse declined by about a third. Nike Inc. saw a sales decline in the mid-singles, but the company captured market share.

Adidas and New Balance declined in the mid-teens, while Skechers was down in the high teens. Under Armour, Saucony, and Vans all dropped more than -20%. ASICS was down in the low teens.

Running was a theme among the top performing brands year-to-date through June. Brooks had a high teens increase, Puma grew in the high singles, Hoka One One was up more than 75%, and On Running sales more than doubled.

The top selling sneaker styles for the first half of the year, ranked on dollar sales, are as follows: Nike Air Force 1 Low, Nike Air Max 270, Nike Air Max 97, Nike Air VaporMax Plus, Nike Revolution 5, Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit 3, Adidas NMD R1, Jordan XIII Retro, Jordan I High OG, and Nike Air Max 90.

The activewear market followed a similar trajectory. It began the year with a low single-digit increase in January/February, followed by declines greater than -35% in March and April. The May sales decline softened, in the mid-singles, and June grew about 10%. For the full six months combined, sales declined in the low teens. I expect sales will remain challenged in the second half.

Women’s sales were down in the high singles, men’s declined in the low teens and kids’ down in the mid-teens.

In terms of brands, private label (the aggregate of all retailers’ private brands) actually grew in the first half. Retailers do not have the same flexibility with private brands as they do with their wholesale partners and therefore had to take more price action to clear.

Nike, the largest brand in the activewear space, performed better than the overall market in the first half and, though down -9%, also performed better than the other top brands, Under Armour and Adidas. Under Armour activewear declined in the mid-teens while Adidas was down about -20%. Hanes grew about 25% and Fruit of the Loom dropped in the low singles. The latter two brands took advantage of the fact that some of their largest customers were considered “essential” and were open through March and April.

While there will be bright spots within these markets, overall I expect the sales trend in athletic footwear and activewear to remain challenged for the rest of the year.