Athleisure Will Surpass Fashion as Largest Footwear Category in 2020

As the trend of comfortable and functional shoes continues to grow in the U.S., athletic-inspired casual sneakers will surpass fashion as the largest footwear category in 2020 and drive U.S. footwear sales growth through 2021, according to a recent note from market research company The NPD Group. According to the firm's Retail Tracking Service, in the 12 months ending August 2019, sport leisure footwear grew 7%, while fashion declined 5% and performance footwear sales fell 7%.

“I expect that in the upcoming years, more brands will effectively respond to the shift away from performance and fashion footwear to focus on what has become the new norm: athleisure footwear,” said Matt Powell, a senior industry advisor at NPD said. “The nature of fitness in the U.S. has changed, and this has been a major contributor to footwear market shifts. Consumers are committed to a healthy lifestyle, but that commitment is lighthearted. They no longer define themselves by their sports activities. As a result, consumers are looking for shoes that are less technical and instead more versatile and every day.”

Growth in this category will be driven by running- and basketball-inspired styles, according to the note, and the men's and kid's markets will lead it. Analysts expect the fashion category to rebound slightly in 2021 when silhouettes adapt to what's popular and become more comfort-oriented with features like lower and thicker heels.

Sports clothing is increasingly being used for daily activities, and Morgan Stanley expects global athletic wear sales to reach $355 billion in 2021, up from $290 billion in 2017.

Shares in Nike Inc. (NKE) hit an all-time-high last week after a better-than-expected earnings report. Along with other big brands like Adidas and Lululemon Athletica Inc. (LULU), the company has benefited in a big way from the athleisure trend globally and makes known its emphasis on style. InfluencerDB analyzed 5.5 million Instagram posts from 2018 and found that Nike was the fifth best-performing brand in influencer marketing with Earned Media Value (EMV) of over $168 million. It placed just behind Inditex's popular clothing brand Zara. It appears sneakers aren't simply having a multi-year moment, they're set to take over.

"From competition to fitness to light activity to play, our more inclusive view on design is opening up new lanes of opportunity for growth," said Mark Parker, Nike CEO, during the latest earnings call. He added, "The global shift toward more active lifestyles continues to accelerate, and demand for athletic product is high. As a company, we have a sharper focus on these areas that will drive the greatest growth."

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