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The hottest trend in the U.S. athletic shoe market right now is classic, or retro, footwear. The overall classics category is growing at a +29 percent pace for 2016 so far through October, according to retail sales data from The NPD Group – five percentage points greater than this time in 2015 and currently the strongest player in the athletic footwear market. While retro basketball shoes have been hot for more than a decade, retro running and retro tennis are now growing quickly as well. 

To further illustrate the power of this trend, classic footwear was among the top-five performing categories, in terms of dollar sales, the week before Thanksgiving, according to NPD’s Holiday Shopping Bag 2016 Weekly Report. Retro styles are sure to drive sales for the athletic footwear industry this holiday season, just as they did for back-to-school. If back-to-school is any indication, the #1 selling shoe was a retro model and, in fact, six of the top-selling models were retro styles.

One of the most interesting aspects of the retro trend is how broad-based it is by brand. Virtually every major brand with older styles in their vault is participating. Typically, when a new trend emerges, it is based only on a few brands.

In order to capture the customer, however, brands cannot simply resurrect shoes from the archives; today’s consumers demand that the products they wear be modern.

Manufacturing techniques have changed over the years, allowing “new” retro styles to be made in a modern way. This means the old methods cannot be used anymore. We have also seen many advances in materials since the original shoes were first introduced. The consumer has become accustomed to lighter and more breathable materials, so brands have had to update their materials as well. In addition, fits have changed in the years since the shoes were first introduced. As one example, kids are a lot bigger than they were decades ago. Brands have had to modernize the original fit as well.

Exploiting this trend was not an easy task. Brands had to essentially rebuild the styles while making them true to their original concept.

While the epicenter of the retro trend remains the athletic specialists, there is an opportunity for every channel to participate. Brands will want to segment products, but all channels can share in this success.

There is also an apparel opportunity here. Brands should develop “retro” apparel products to match their footwear offerings. Track pants, wind suits, and crewneck sweatshirts are just some examples of potential retro apparel.

As with any trend, I often get asked, “How long can this last?” While I think the fashion cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, given how many footwear products are available to re-release, this trend can hold on for a while. Combined with the public’s lack of interest in performance footwear, I think we will be in this cycle for some time to come.


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