The U.S. sales trend for athletic footwear was solid in the first half of the year, though the more recent results were weaker as June sales grew only in the low single-digits compared to 2020. Early indications are that the Child Tax Credit will lift the footwear business, so I expect the second half of 2021 will bode well for athletic footwear, but not as solid as the first half.

Athletic footwear sales for the first six months of 2021 grew more than 35%, versus 2020, and about 23%, versus 2019. Women’s athletic footwear grew by about 40% compared to 2020. Interestingly, as they have stated publicly that future growth will be driven by women’s footwear, both Nike and Adidas ceded share in women’s footwear in the first half of the year. Share gainers in women’s athletic footwear included Brooks, Converse, Puma, Skechers, and Vans. Men’s and children’s athletic footwear both grew over 30% for the first six months, versus the same timeframe in 2020.

Mostly due to so many stores being closed last year, shoe chains were the strongest channel this year, as businesses opened back up – growing more than 50% over last year. Premium department stores and athletic specialty/sporting goods grew about 37%. Mid-tier/value stores were up about 22%.

Looking at specific categories, performance basketball footwear grew in the realm of 25% over 2020, rising in the low single digits versus 2019. I expect we’ll see this trend moderate. Performance running footwear grew by about one-third. Brooks solidified its leading position in women’s performance running shoes. I still expect we will see a return to performance running as street-wear soon.

As predicted, due to the increasing desire of consumers to get outdoors to safely exercise, both hiking and walking shoes outperformed the market, with sales, on average, up nearly 50%.

Sport lifestyle footwear grew by about one-third. However, growth tailed off late, as brands were not able to offset the extraordinary gains seen in June 2020.

At the brand level, both Nike and Jordan underperformed the market and ceded share in the first half of 2021, compared to 2020. Adidas and New Balance grew by approximately one-third. Brooks, Converse, Vans, Under Armour, and Skechers footwear sales grew by more than half. Reebok grew a whopping 75%. Hoka One One grew about 90%, while On sales tripled. Additionally, Merrell, Keen, and Columbia all experienced a strong first half.

The top-selling athletic footwear for the first half of 2021, in dollar rank order, include Nike Air Force 1 Low*, Nike Air Max 270, Nike Air Vapormax Plus, Nike Air Max Excee, Nike Air Max 90, Jordan I Mid, Nike Revolution 5, Adidas NMD R1, Brooks Ghost 13, and Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21.

On the athletic apparel side, as consumers continued to seek out comfort over fashion – a trend accelerated by the work-from-home culture brought on by COVID-19 – activewear fared better than athletic footwear in the first half of 2021. Sales of activewear grew more than 40% this year over last year, and more than 25% compared to 2019. Women’s activewear grew about 40% in the first half of this year, while men’s and children’s activewear grew about 45% versus 2020. In the women’s market, Nike ceded share to other brands in the first half.  

Knit shirts and pants grew an average of 40%, while shorts and sweatshirts were up more than 50%. Underwear continued its strong growth – up 40% – while sports bras grew about 30%. Active swimwear sales increased close to 50%.

When the pandemic hit, retailers canceled orders with wholesale partners, but they still had to take in private brands, which led to more inventory and more promotions. That’s why the aggregate of all retailers’ private brands was one of the most successful “brands” in 2020. That trend has slowed, however, bringing private-label brands back to the pack.

Looking at specific brands, Nike, Columbia, and Under Armour activewear grew an average of 40% in the first half of the year, as Adidas improved by nearly 50%. Hanes was up about 35%, Fruit of the Loom grew in the mid-teens, and Champion sales grew by more than 50%. Reebok activewear nearly quadrupled and Puma was up by nearly two-thirds.

Activewear in the athletic specialty/sporting goods channel grew by more than half, while the premium and mid-tier channels grew more than 40%.

As we continue to move through the year, I believe consumers will remain committed to healthy living and social distancing, which will drive growth in the athletic footwear and activewear markets. However, I expect second half comparisons will be more challenging than the first half; we can expect growth, but at a lower rate in the second half.

Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service (does not include brand direct-to-consumer, or DTC)

*Combines Nike Air Force 1 ’07 Low and Air Force 1 Low