What developments will the footwear industry face in the coming years? This is the key question that animated the discussion of the Summit, to which operators of the sector and the intervened experts responded firmly: productive flexibility, sustainability and personalisation.
Andy Polk and Matt Priest, of FDRA – the American association of distributors and shoe merchants, promoter of the conference, opened the discussion talking about Sustainability and Agility as a virtue from which the footwear sector cannot be disregarded.
If it is true, in fact, that 63.3% of US consumers aged 18 to 30 prefer to buy online (despite the fact that in 2018 shoe store sales broke all records) and that in 2019, still in the United States, seemingly 5,000 stores will be closed (twice as many as those that will open). If footwear prices continue to decrease and imports remain constant, then it is true that the future of footwear production must be equipped to be more agile and transparent in the production phase.
For Frank Lavin, of Export Now, “in the next 10/20 years there will be 3 billion new customers for the shoe world. Customers accustomed to the digital world, and therefore to the breaking down of borders and distances, who expect to receive almost immediately what they bought online”. A trend that combined with the decline in tariff barriers will greatly increase the volume of international trade. “It will be necessary – continues Lavin – to learn to work with those you do not know and get used to the idea that it will be easier for competitors to conquer our market shares, and for us it will be easier gaining new customers also”.
Flexibility and innovation become therefore central parameters for the productive world. Terms that go hand in hand with what Cherie Blum of Steve Madden calls “agility in personalising fashion proposals”. From her experience emerges the clear need to satisfy the consumer through an agile and flexible production: “The almost 4 thousand prototypes that we produce are very important to us. We have a factory in New York that we mainly need to test new products. In fact, Steve Madden started out as a salesman and even today he wants the store to verify the style intuition. We bring the new models to the shop on Fridays, during the weekend we evaluate the reaction of the public and on Mondays we choose what to produce… and in 30 days the shoes must be on sale. This can be done if you are very agile”.
Fila’s experience is similar. For Joe Passio the secret of the brand’s resounding success in recent years lies in the ability to change direction very quickly. “Social media often make us change direction and in 10 days we are able to react. It helps us to control 7 shoe factories and the urge to always find new production solutions… because today you cannot afford to say: ‘it cannot be done’”.
And if the extreme direction is that of a mass customisation in which private labels guided by consumption data (Amazon and Yoox, to understand each other) receive orders in the evening, claim to produce overnight and deliver the next morning – suggests Andrey Golub of AtomLab – then it is likely to be increasingly crucial to digitise your productions as much as possible to speed up processes and above all hold the ‘power’: “Whoever owns data today commands the game (Booking.com is stronger than Novotel, just as an example)”, says Jean-Marc Pedeboy of Romans Cad.
As for the slogan ‘Sustainability’, according to Ben De Vito, int.l business dev.t director Eurofins, consumers are the ones who push the market in that direction.
The stock of raw materials that today are accumulated in the hope of a production that often or sometimes does not occur, leading to a considerable dispersion of resources is among the most important problems to be solved. This is the thought of Ian Spaulding of Elevate.
Philippe Holthuizen, of 3D Cobbler Fused Footwear, suggests some alternative ways to rethink sustainability: “We must think it is possible to produce even more shoes and be sustainable. For example, by selling them online in the form of a subscription and preparing an efficient second-hand collection and recycling program. To reach these levels it is obvious that companies should start thinking in the long term and not just about an immediate return”.
When it comes to sustainability, it is the skin that has to be its master, according to Kerry Brozyna, vice-president and general manager of Wolverine Leather: “Leather is not yet perceived as one of the most sustainable materials available, as it is. And it has to face the attack of many other materials. Therefore it is necessary to start communicating its merits differently and underlining the differences with respect to the synthetic world”. An appeal to which optimism follows: “Leather will once again become important in the footwear sector thanks to the new generations that increasingly demand durable, repairable, sustainable products”.
Thomas Schneider, founder and CEO of ISA TanTec, shares the same thought: “We are investing heavily in marketing campaigns that tell the true benefits of the skin, to counteract the widespread disinformation. We provide our customers with all the tools necessary to convey the message to the final consumer, who often still believes that the world of leather goes with little respect for animals, pollution and consumption of chemicals, without realising that it’s exactly other materials, like synthetics to run into these problems”.
The message is clear: “Don’t stay still!” Because the footwear of tomorrow will have to be personalised and shared, be instantaneous, transparent and sustainable.