It’s really the clash of the titans. Kanye West’s Yeezys and Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan’s are caught in a tight race to conquer the sneaker world. But what we see is simply the tip of the iceberg, and a ‘premium’ one at that. Underneath is a gigantic heap of regular sneaker wear that helps make America the largest footwear market in the world.
What started strictly as Croquet and Tennis wear back in the 1860s, soon became a full-blown rage as sports and fitness fanaticism permeated American culture. Today, sneakers are an integral part of streetwear, driven hugely by the athleisure trend that has gripped the country. Piplsay rides the sneaker wave to understand the trends* behind this age-old American fascination.
“You make shoe contact before you make eye contact”, goes a famous saying. And this can’t be much further from the truth. Today, Sneakers have become a symbol of style and comfort, especially with youngsters who like to flaunt them with style and enthusiasm, be it casual wear or even corporate wear. Not surprising then, that, a majority of them own around 3-4 sets of sneakers on an average these days. Those active in sports are likely to have even more. In particular, 18- 24 year-olds who at 41% seem to have a maximum number of sneakers (5-10 pairs) as compared to 25-34 year-olds (35%) and other age groups.
The athletic footwear market is largely driven by the running shoe segment as Americans increasingly adopt healthy lifestyles. Requiring no special equipment or gear, running is often seen as the best and easiest form of fitness, which accounts for its popularity. Taking the running fad even further are the numerous marathons, mud races and other sporting events that are held regularly and see increased participation each year. As sneakers also become synonymous with comfort, several brands are even focusing on customizing their products to cater to different needs and demands, including sneakers for older people with foot-related issues.
Despite dropping sales and slow growth, Nike continues to the leader among the pack, dominating the list of top sellers with styles like Tanjun, Air Huarache and Air Max 270, providing tough competition. Not to forget its iconic Air Jordan re-releases that sell like hotcakes despite the exorbitant price. The latest being the 2018 Jordan 11 ‘Concord’ version. But other players like Adidas (with their Yeezys), as well as New Balance, are also catching up real fast. However, brands like Puma, Reebok and Under Armour, despite their popularity seem to be struggling a bit, with demand for their products slowing down over the past few months.
While it’s the regular range that makes for a huge chunk of the sneaker market, the premium segment has also become a major contributor to the industry’s growth, with brands often collaborating with artists or re-releasing retros to maintain the hype and exclusivity. With an average starting price of over $200 for a pair, these drops often create pandemonium, especially among sneakerheads, who will do anything to get their hands on the latest release. This massive craze has also created a booming resale market, that thrives on the ‘low supply-high demand’ phenomenon.
The sneaker industry in the US has seen stunning growth over the past ten years, with collaborations, customizations, and personalization being the key drivers. The future will also remain driven by innovation as consumers increasingly begin to look beyond the ordinary. In that, Nike, with its self-lacing smart shoes, seems to have already taken the ‘next’ leap, putting technology right under our feet.
* Based on 21,700 online responses