Nike says that this year it's introducing "four new ways of thinking about sneakers for women," including expanding sizes of its most popular releases, more curated retail experiences for women in stores and online, including Nike Unlaced, the company's "new sneaker destination for women," styling services for women, and more female voices in its marketing and design collaborations, according to a notice on its website
The sports gear maker said that its emphasis on women's-specific design includes not just a consistent offering of footwear, but also recent efforts to broaden women's access to sport, including its development of the Nike Pro Hijab and plus-sizing for athletic apparel. But the fulcrum is footwear that is a "transcendent symbol of athletic and stylistic identity," the company also said. "One thing that connects all women in sport is sneakers."
Nike's push to appeal to women through development and marketing of innovative footwear comes at the same time as a finding from fashion data-analytics firm Edited, emailed to Retail Dive, that sell-outs of high heels declined 13.4% last year, despite a 28% increase in inventory year-on-year, while sellouts of sneakers have risen by 38%, with a 36.6% year-over-year increase in styles.
When it comes to the future of footwear, Nike is seeing the writing on the wall, and it's being inscribed by women.
The athleisure movement and its influence on fashion continues to be a primary driver of growth opportunity for the apparel industry, according to the NPD Group, which also found that women are a major driver of those sales. Sales of both men's and women's activewear grew in 2017, but women's styles rose 4% from 2016 to $21.9 billion, according to an email to Retail Dive from Marshal Cohen, NPD chief industry advisor.
Also last year, women's active/leisure and comfort brand segments grew 7% in an otherwise flat women's fashion footwear market, led by sneaker sales (along with fashion boots and mules with low to mid heels). Edited similarly found that, along with healthy sneaker sales, slippers and ballet flats saw an 8.9% rise in sellouts year over year. That kind of momentum in athleisure and comfort is poised to continue this year, according to Cohen.
It helps that sneakers are increasingly acceptable footwear for work, according to Katie Smith, Edited's Retail Analysis & Insights Director, who said in an email to Retail Dive that the market is shifting toward "more technical aspects in footwear."
Nike said it anticipates women to influence not just retail environments, merchandising and marketing for their segment, but also innovation and design for everyone. "These projects define the future state of footwear for women, where more curation and collaboration can be expected, but also an increase in female representation is poised to manifest new ideas not just for women but all sneaker enthusiasts," the company said.