Just like spring itself, the outdoor footwear market is poised for growth. Between brands moving swiftly to meet heightened expectations and consumers’ shifting priorities, moods and behaviors, the season is shaping up to be a fusion of comfort, practicality and style.
The outdoor footwear and apparel market is expected to reach $27 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 5 percent from 2019 to 2015, according to data by Brand Essence Research — and that’s pre-pandemic. Researchers at Technavio said just the hiking and trail footwear market alone is expected to grow by $4 billion during 2021-25, which speaks volumes to what consumers want and need now.
That need is a universal desire to be immersed in nature — or at least get outside. Peter Sachs, general manager at outdoor footwear brand Lowa, told WWD that the footwear market has evolved in the past year due to many more shoppers in pursuit of easygoing outdoor activities.
“The first obvious change is that the market has grown as consumers are trying to spend time outside. The second thing is that this is a bottom-up growth where walkers want something for longer walks and are exploring local trails. Day hikers are taking trips to state and national parks and want better support, traction, waterproofing and the other attributes a hiking boot offers,” Sachs said.
The Emergence of the Weekend Hiker
But a newish category has made its way into consumers’ wallets — that of the “weekend hiker,” or consumers’ casual affair with experiencing nature without dipping their toe into anything too crazy. “The drivers are day hiking and athletic-inspired footwear, all of which is maybe multipurpose since the customer is trying just about every outdoor activity possible. Walking, hiking, birding, biking are the kinds of activities consumers are participating in and they want a shoe they can do all of these activities in,” Sachs told WWD.
Contrasting hiking boots from Lowa.
And the sudden growth of day hikers in the outdoor scene means that trends and new behaviors have emerged, too. “The weekend hiker is maybe taking some backpacking trips requiring more of those same qualities out of their footwear. Everyone is in search of their own adventure and trying to be outside and move further away from others, hence the increase not just in volume, but performance.”
But what have footwear brands been doing differently to engage with consumers? Lowa said it shifted more toward digital, which doesn’t exclusively mean interacting more frequently on Facebook or Instagram — it also means new partnerships, such as its summerlong engagement programs with Leki Trekking Poles and Deuter Packs, #Venturelocally, which the brand embarked on last year.
“The goal was to get consumers engaged in their local outdoor activities and see them online. We have also started a series of athlete ambassador Instagram Live sessions where we bring these incredible outdoor sportspeople forward and try to make their experiences serve as inspiration and guidance for people who may want further adventure.”
Sachs explained that these initiatives are geared toward creating a more modern way of interacting with consumers. “Programs like these two are really all about consumer engagement and keeping the brand in front of the consumer’s eyes as we cut back on print advertising to conserve cash last year and into this year.”
The pandemic has indeed given the outdoor industry an opportunity to connect with shoppers and fans in a cooler way. Erik Burbank, vice president, Keen Effect, at Keen Footwear, told WWD, “While we haven’t been able to connect physically, we’ve been able to use digital connections and engagements, focusing on how people are experiencing the life outside today. It’s more social, inclusive, and about the experience — whether in a local park or a nearby trail.”
Industry experts agree that nature is the best medicine on all fronts, particularly now as consumers who were primarily confined to their homes are suddenly, albeit slowly, returning to some semblance of normalcy. “Most of us work in this industry because we love the outdoors and appreciate the physical and mental benefits we get whenever we go outside. We’re working hard to inspire and support this next generation of outside peoples so they can experience the same,” Burbank said.
And much like other areas of fashion and retail, many outdoor footwear brands approach sustainability with endurance and longevity. Burbank said shoppers are searching for fit, comfort and durability, which “have never been more important. People are gravitating to versatile comfort products like our men’s and women’s Howsers. They’re supremely comfortable, indoor/outdoor versatile and perfect for everything from Van Life to around the house or to quick trips to the coffee shop.”
A bright look from Keen.
“People are looking to make good choices, focusing on brands they trust, those that share their values — choosing brands that are doing the right thing for people and the planet more than ever. And they’re choosing products that will make their outdoor experience a better one.”
Perhaps that’s why the humble hiking boot is one of the fastest-growing categories in outdoor. “Hiking boots are on fire,” Burbank said. “It’s about fit, comfort, durability — and trust. A record number of consumers are seeking out our iconic Targhee hikers. Out-of-the-box comfort makes Keen an easy choice for everyone from new participants to seasoned veterans.”
Technology is another important aspect of any technical, high-performing footwear — and consumers have been curious and open to new technologies, Burbank said. “Our new Ridge Flex Hiker builds off a familiar platform while introducing breakthrough ‘Keen.bellows Flex’ technology that makes each step easier, while adding even more durability to the product,” he said. “The technology is visual, easy to understand, and something you can feel as soon as you put on the boot.”
There’s also a trend toward values that continues to accelerate, according to Burbank. “Consumers want to align with brands that share their values and understanding and minimizing their impact on the planet has never been more important,” he said — but a growing, intrinsic desire for social connectedness also sharply influences recent consumer trends.
“Not only are more people than ever getting outside, how they’re going out has shifted,” Burbank noted. “For some, it’s a replacement for going to the gym. For a few, it’s still about bagging that distant peak, but for the majority, it’s about being outside together. Sharing the experience, the trail, nature, the food, and the stories with friends — that’s the goal.”
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