Young men are officially the biggest consumers of footwear in the UK. Move over Carrie Bradshaw, or is that reference way too old when you consider many of these 16-24 year old men weren’t even born when she started shopping for her Manolos.
According to the latest research from Mintel on footwear retailing, 95% of British males aged 16-24 bought shoes last year, making them Britain’s number one footwear buyers.
There’s been a revolution in men buying shoes and while women (86%) are still more likely to purchase footwear than men (78%), females aged 16-24 (10%) are twice as likely to have not purchased footwear in the last year compared to their male counterparts (5%), as the continuation of the casual and ‘athleisure’ trends drive men’s footwear sales.
Male shoe addicts are fast catching up on women. Men’s footwear accounted for 37% of all footwear sales in 2017, up from 34% in 2015. Valued at £4.38 billion in 2017, sales of men’s shoes increased an impressive 31% between 2015 and 2017. In comparison, sales of women’s shoes grew by only 10% over the same period to reach £5.48 billion in 2017.
“Men’s footwear, particularly among younger age groups, is really fuelling growth in the footwear sector.” says Chana Baram, Retail Analyst at Mintel. “In fact, our research shows that men aged 16-24 are more likely to be swayed by big brand names than women of the same age.” says Baram. “With trainers such a popular category for men as a whole, young men in particular are likely to respond positively to advertising campaigns by the big sports brands that feature their favourite male sports personalities.” she says.
This footwear sales growth is being fuelled by trainers, trainers and more trainers. Casual shoes and trainers are now the most popular shoe styles purchased by men.
“These are not just essential buys, but, got-to-have-it buys,” says Richard Wharton, footwear veteran and founder of Office & Offspring. “It’s all about the latest sneaker, there are millions version of that: the luxe trend, the Balenciaga Triple S, Off-White, Converse or Vans or whatever.” says Wharton. “These young guys have never worn formal shoes or been forced into wearing them at school. They buy what they want,” he says.
“Sneaker culture has really grown, from being a niche market to having mass appeal,” says Pamela Dunn, Senior Buyer, Schuh. “The rise of exclusive collabs and hard-to-get releases from brands like Nike/Adidas has fuelled the sneaker market.” she says.
In our age of sportswear and dress-down, our footwear choices have mirrored this and what was once unacceptable in certain social situations has now become mainstream and mass. Comfort is key.
“In modern offices nobody wears any other formal attire anymore so it’s acceptable to wear sneakers,” says Wharton. “Hype’s there. Before you didn’t have trainers for different occasions,” says Wharton. “Where you had that in formal wear, you, now, have that in sneakers: all black sneaker for work, weekend, something casual, or a club, maybe Dior or Louboutin,” he says.
The trainer market has grown to such as size that there is now multiple categories within this market and men are buying a full wardrobe of trainers for every social occasion. Designer brands have piled into this market seeing big margins and huge volumes. But what are these guys buying into?
“Big brands at a more mass market level like Nike/Adidas or more top level brands include Off-White / Gucci / LV etc.” says Dunn.
“It’s so broad. They are buying high-end street couture to basic Vans or Converse,” says Wharton. “Nike rules with guys buy into their new technology. There are huge queues waiting for the next thing and Nike limit it, so they drip feed it in.” he says.
Boys are buying brands and this may go someway to explain the latest movements within the men’s footwear market. Ted Baker recently bought back its shoe license for £21 million. The fashion brand bought ‘No Ordinary Shoes’, the worldwide licensee, from the Pentland Group. “This is an exciting opportunity to drive further growth in our footwear business by leveraging our global footprint and infrastructure, in line with our strategy to further develop Ted Baker as a global lifestyle brand,” said Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin.
As Pentland lost Ted Baker, it appointed Marc Hare as the new ‘Product Director of the Lacoste Footwear Joint Venture’. He will be leading the new ‘Mainline’ and ‘Future Concepts’ product teams and working with Lacoste JV CEO, Gianni Georgiades, to support the company's vision for the brand. Marc Hare is known for his luxury evening styles and his, now, defunct Mr Hare footwear label. It’ll be interesting to see whether Pentland want to grow Lacoste further out from its sporty origins or use Hare’s skill by giving those sports shoes an elevation to compete within the luxury sneaker market.
What these brands see is growth, but is there further room for expansion or is the market becoming saturated?
“I think males will increasingly buy into footwear in the future, but the market will change,” says Dunn. “I think exclusive products may become less desirable, but brands that are big now will become even more dominant e.g. nike/adidas.” she says.
“It depends when it becomes saturation point,” says Wharton. “So many people want comfort that looks cool and there are multiple sub-genres such as Japanese sneakers, and Palace/Supreme collabs,” he says.
While the sports brands continue to offer newness, limit 'exclusive' product and raid their archives for classic styles, the trainer market seems healthy and will sustain the desire of men to keep adding to their collections. But, this rise of young men becoming the largest consumers of footwear is skewed towards one category and it will be interesting to see how the footwear industry gets this entire generation off their sport wears addiction and into a pair of leather lace-ups.
We seem to be fixated on the year 1983. First came Stranger Things and now, the new film by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name.
Left - Getting rave views - Call Me By Your Name - The new film by Luca Guadagnino, who also made I am Love & A Bigger Splash
A love story between Elio and Oliver, Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, respectively, it is an Italian summer romance featuring the power brands of the decade.
Right - The film's wardrobe was very casual 80s brands such as Lacoste & Polo Ralph Lauren
From Polo Ralph Lauren shirts, clothing the arrogant and preppy Oliver, to the striped Lacoste polos on the young and loving Elio.
Mix it with a bit of 80s Italian disco and copious amounts of drawstring swim shorts and you have your next warm weather wardrobe sorted. A future classic, it’s a peach of a film!
Left - B.D. Baggies - Bradfort Oxford Butt Down-Pocket - £73
Below - Ray Ban - Original Wayfarer Classic - £127
Left - Lacoste - Men’s Lacoste Regular Fit Striped Pima Cotton Polo - £79
Below - Boardies - Overlay Shortie Swim Shorts - £50
Persol - Havana - £153 from Sunglasses-shop
Converse - Fastbreak ’83 Vintage - £70
Casio - Classic Digital Watch F-91W-1XY - £13 from ASOS
adidas - Originals Football Swim Short - £29.99 from Footasylum
See More Get The Look - The Assassination of Gianni Versace - here
Get The Look - Wild, Wild Country
If only Andy Warhol was alive today to see the rise of the selfie. A pioneer of self promotion, the king of pop art knew exactly the power of his own image.
TheChicGeek, on the other hand, has become a pop icon in the men's bloggersphere, thanks to his stylish persona. The coolest geek in town, he knows exactly how classic and chic a black leather jacket, Breton striped top and denim jeans can be.
Never one to shy away from the camera, watch as The Chic Geek turns himself into a work of art.
Credits - Leather Jacket - H&M, Top - Scotch & Soda, Jeans - Energie, Watch - Hammond & Co., Sunglasses - Police, Socks - The London Sock Co, Trainers - Converse, Wallet - Jigsaw
Shot by Robin Forster on OlympusPEN
With thanks to Sonsoles Print Studio, Peckham
More images below
The American pop artist, Andy Warhol, embodies modern male dressing: slim shapes in simple clean lines. The model of the 1960s Beatnik, Warhol, in his early career, liked to stick to his uniform of dark denim, striped Breton tops and leather jackets.
A master of his own image, TheChicGeek couldn't help but try his hand at becoming Andy Warhol, well, for 15 minutes at least!
Credits - Leather Jacket - Acne Studios, Top - Farah, Jeans - Energie, Watch - Fossil, Sunglasses - Balenciaga, Socks - The London Sock Co, Camera - Polaroid Cube, Trainers - Converse, Lip Balm - Bulldog, Charcoal Face Wash - B.Mens, Shave Cream - B.Mens
Shot by Robin Forster on OlympusPEN
With thanks to Sonsoles Print Studio, Peckham
More images below
The biggest problem I had with Converse was how could something so simple be so uncomfortable. I remember buying a pair of special John Varvatos Converse and within a few hours I was hobbling home, never to be worn again.
Left - The four colour ways of the new Chuck II
Anyway, Converse, now owned by Nike, has released the Chuck II: a brand new style that boasts the same exterior of the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star – including the easily recognisable rubber toe cap, white foxing detail and statement All Star patch – whilst incorporating features and benefits to deliver a comfortable, versatile and premium sneaker, "as informed by the consumer" - so it wasn’t just me who found them to be uncomfortable!
The Chuck II is available in black, white, red and navy colour ways – £55 for low tops and £60 for high tops.
Below - The trainer interior for comfort
Youth, beautiful youth, seems to sum up the scene at Zalando HQ. Everywhere you look, young people: sitting outside in the sun on bench tables chatting, inside large, open-plan offices developing new product and organising deliveries and logistics and vast teams styling and producing the content for the website in cavernous studio spaces.
Left - One of Zalando's many buildings based around East Berlin
Zalando feels like a microcosm of hipster Berlin: the youth of Europe drawn together over the passion of creativity, fashion and design in a mix of tattoos, coloured hair and piercings. But, these young people aren’t restricted to simply the creation side of the business, they run all the way through to senior management and is a reflection of the company’s age having only started in 2008.
In the space of 7 years Zalando has gone from speculative start-up to a billion dollar business. The biggest fashion e-tailer that nobody, well, those of us in the UK anyway, has heard of, it has grown to be the biggest fashion platform in Europe with sales of over €2.2 billion, last year. Just to give it some context, ASOS turned over £975 million in 2014.
While British brands such as ASOS and Topshop looked towards America, Australia and China for growth, Zalando was quietly focusing itself and expanding into 15 European countries and tailoring its offering accordingly.
Right - For the recent Berlin Fashion Week, Zalando opened a 'Fashion House' to showcase product, hold talks and celebrate Berlin as a fashion centre
Based in Berlin, business is conducted in English, so as to unify all 15 markets, making Zalando feel more like a international business based in Berlin rather than a German fashion company. It now sells over 1500 brands with a staggering 150,000 products in markets ranging from Austria to the UK.
Selling luxury diffusion lines, high-street brands and now, a whole collection of own labels, developed for specific customer categories, Zalando is aiming to have everything covered.
I’m here, during Berlin Fashion Week, to see inside the company and how it has developed. I first experienced Zalando’s website a few years ago, and it felt, at the time, like just another European website selling third party brands in not a particularly inspiring way. Fast forward a few years and, now, Zalando is the one of the most important European customers to some of Britain's best and biggest brands and the entry to markets many don’t have retail outlets in or websites directed to.
Dressed, today, in American Apparel T-shirt, Element cuffed trousers and Nike trainers, Florian Jodl, VP Menswear, is in charge of the menswear side of Zalando.
“When I joined - 3 years ago - Zalando was making the transition from start-up to large company. We’re, now, the largest fashion platform in Europe and we cover pretty much the whole of Europe”.
Left - Florian Jodl, VP Menswear, Zalando
What’s made Zalando so successful in what is a tough market to crack?
“Our founding team believed in the e-commerce trend at the right point in time. The drivers of the company that made it successful was the marketing, the logistics proposition - free and easy returns, we have more than 20 different payment methods, large assortment and strong relationships with some of the best brands in the world”. he says.
“How those things came together allowed the company to grow so fast. We focused on the fashion market and invested in our fashion proposition from a content perspective. The main part of the business is being a fashion retailer, but we are adding more and more additional services to the consumer and to the brands we work with. For example, we recently launched, ‘Zalon’, which is a curated shopping service: a stylist picks a selection, then you get a package and keep what you like. We don’t run it in-house, we’ve created a platform where stylists can log on to and work independently on a commission basis.”
Where many international retailers have found appealing to so many different markets difficult, and have often come unstuck, Zalando seems to have flourished.
“We have a very strong localisation mindset. For example, in Italy you have to have cash on delivery payments, in Germany, you have to allow for invoice payments. We have been successful in all these different markets by tweaking our brand marketing and efficient end structures, but, if you over emphasise it you have an extremely complex system”, says Jodl.
The most popular men’s brands are currently Nike, adidas, Converse, Reebok and Levi’s.
“Some men are still very focussed on brands, and there is a group of consumers that just want to be inspired. So, outfits work quite well, for us, particularly for men. We have a function, now, where you can buy everything the model is wearing.
“We see the men’s business accelerating even faster than the rest. When you think of buying fashion, online, it is an attractive proposition for the stereotypical, average guy. You don’t have to go downtown, be in a crowded store, you can order a nice selection of stuff and what you like, you keep. It just took men longer to take the step and try and, now, they’ve tried it, you can see it really picking up,” says Jodl.
Right - Each individual item is shot and physically moved along the creative line to be retouched, described and uploaded onto the Zalando site
I’m taken inside an old factory building in East Berlin that houses the studio where Zalando shoots all the images for the website. Not allowed to take pictures, it is the modern e-tailer factory: a conveyor belt of styling, shooting, retouching, describing and uploading.
Zalando has recently developed its own range of labels seeing gaps in the market and also higher margins. Menswear features in labels such ‘Kiomi', ‘Your Turn’, ‘Pier One’, ‘Brooklyn’s Own’ and unisex shoe brand called ‘Zign'. The own brands are currently expanding as a percentage of the business with many collections, now, running into hundreds of pieces.
Zalando, while having shipped to the UK for many years, is now turning its attention to us, and particularly menswear, seeing a fashion hungry and lucrative market.
“One key thing we need to do is build a more focussed assortment as the UK is a very developed and strong fashion market, in the past we probably missed some of the key local brands”, he says.
For Berlin Fashion Week, Zalando curated a ‘Fashion House’ in the centre of Berlin to not only display their product but to inspire and put the flag in the ground for Berlin as a fashion capital and authority. (Zalando recently bought the fashion trade show Bread & Butter, which up until a few seasons ago was one of the biggest street and casual wear trade shows in the world).
Left - Inside Zalando's 'Fashion House', a pop-up in Mitte during the recent Berlin Fashion Week
They understand that they have to make Berlin relevant in order for them to be taken seriously as a fashion authority. The key to Zalando’s success is its expertise in the markets it operates in. While not only appealing to its customers, it also appeals to other retailers and brands that want the ‘in’ to these potentially lucrative European markets.
As different parts of Europe come out of recession, Zalando will only increase its dominance and it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t snapped up by somebody like Amazon, or anybody who wants a large and developed slice of the European fashion market.
Online retailers understand that its their own product which will offer a USP and also better returns. It will be interesting to see whether Zalando's own menswear brands will be picked up by the British male in what is a very competitive and price sensitive market. Watch this space.