7. The World Stage
While near-term weakness in Europe is top of mind for footwear players, there are still hot pockets.
The big athletic brands are going all out for the Olympic Games in London and are confident that their marketing spends will translate into healthy sales. “Internationally, the biggest opportunity will be the U.K. with the Olympics, but typically the games drive sales in the short term, but not profits for the longer term,” Morningstar’s Swinand said.
And while China’s real estate market appears in peril, that could be a good sign for consumers there. “Real estate moguls will jump out of windows, but the cost of housing is coming down for the average joe,” said Swinand. He added that many high-end brands are also banking on India, but some areas closer to home could prove challenging. “Canadian consumers appear tapped out, and Brazil is facing a rough year.”
8. Trend Shift
Platforms aren’t over, but the single sole is back on top. Mules also are making a comeback, and flat shoes are turning up in multiple iterations, including new takes on the oxford, loafer and creeper.
“The range of single-sole pumps, played off the menswear-inspired shoes, is a nice contrast,” said Elizabeth Kanfer, Saks Fifth Avenue’s fashion and co-brand director of accessories.
For spring, cork and wooden wedges should dominate, alongside a range of ladylike styles with ankle straps. As for the most influential runways, Barneys New York Fashion Director Amanda Brooks named Céline, Lanvin, Givenchy and Azzedine Alaïa as labels with consistently strong shoes. “New direction and inspiration is always the expectation from them, and we like to balance the big trends with functional and wearable styles,” Brooks said. Off the runway, she cited Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin as standouts that will shape many of the top trends and silhouettes for 2012.
9. Young Guns
Make no mistake: Footwear’s fast-rising design stars are serious about taking their businesses to the next level, from major wholesale growth to retail expansion.
Not only are Nicholas Kirkwood and Charlotte Olympia bowing New York stores this year but they also continue to top retailers’ ones-to-watch lists. Also on the radar are Jerome Rousseau and Burak Uyan, according to Cody Kondo, Saks Fifth Avenue’s SVP and GMM of accessories. “[Jerome’s] bold designs, interesting use of color and distinctive cutouts ... appeal to the modern-day woman,” Kondo said.
Barneys’ Brooks continues to keep an eye on Tabitha Simmons, but she’s also banking on emerging labels such as Maiyet and Alexa Wagner. “Alexa’s shoes include feminine shapes with a bit of a rough edge, and her unusual use of exotic skins really stands out,” she said.
10. Baring All
It’s galvanized the running and outdoor markets for two years, but is minimalism just getting started? Experts think so. “We haven’t yet seen [minimal] spread its wings,” said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at The NPD Group. Despite waves of new product from performance running brands and new upstarts, there may be major opportunity as more-mainstream labels adopt the philosophy.
Skechers will be touting its new GoRun line this year, while Saucony and New Balance plan to bring some of the movement’s principles into their main lines. But there might be even more potential with the related lightweight story, which has been hot at retail across channels.
“Lightweight running is king, and we continue to see more and more innovation,” said Sam Sato, president of Finish Line. He noted the future could hold even more expansion, as Adidas’ Crazylight lightweight basketball style points to a revolution for every performance category.
11. Next Men
Women’s designers are finding opportunity in an unlikely place: the men’s market. Taking cues from firms that recently broadened their offerings (see Jimmy Choo, Ugg and Rocket Dog), more brands are taking the plunge to cash in on the unprecedented success in the men’s footwear category.
In 2012, Vince Camuto, All Black, Nicholas Kirkwood, Gianvito Rossi and Burak Uyan all have plans to launch men’s lines. “I have a big demand for men’s shoes. All the buyers are always asking me when I will start,” said Uyan.
12. Tech Rules
The rapid adoption of mobile technology and social platforms could be a lucrative opportunity for retailers this year. “The biggest change [in e-commerce] is that mobile shopping is mainstream now,” said Steve Yankovich, VP of eBay mobile. The e-tailer’s suite of mobile apps were downloaded more than 62 million times last year, equating to almost $5 billion in mobile gross merchandise volume, he said.
Social platforms also continue to break down the boundaries of traditional marketing. Twitter’s newly launched brand pages now allow firms to customize their headers and make their taglines more prominent. Facebook’s new timeline feature and lifestyle apps will help advertisers better gauge user data. Meanwhile, f-commerce — e-commerce through Facebook — will expand its influence.