Shoes in front of a city skyline

How to futureproof your footwear range

Having been an academic for too long there are several aspects that particularly come to mind for this new category at PERFORMANCE DAYS. The main one is how the industry is following apparel in becoming more responsible towards ingredient sourcing.

The model for Buyer Behaviour when choosing clothing is a clear funnel: the single most important factor influencing whether to buy is how it looks; if the two items are similar, then the influencing factors move to pricing issues. If the prices are comparable then the next level of factors are those of fit & the material claims. Only if all four of these measurables do not prompt a clear choice then all the other factors come into consideration. In the last category are the CSR (‘Corporate Social Responsibility’) or Eco aspects currently; in other words, everyone says that green factors are important in their choice system – but not more important than the appearance, the price (in other words: they will not pay more), the fit or the performance of the shoe.

Change is a-coming

When the diagram was first suggested there were just three levels: price was equally important as the fit & material claims. However, of the last decade, price has become more important – thus the new scale. More responsible factors will move up the scale as Gen Z become the greater purchasing segment of the industry; Gen Z will be the biggest purchasing group by the end of this decade. It is expected that sustainable factors will move up at least one level. This age group are distinctive by living in rented accommodation, not being concerned at debt (as they are in so much already) and want their appearance to be reflective of their morals – the companies who they choose to wear share their ethics. Brands that do good (as opposed to just speak it) really count here.

Clean Footwear Design

The best leather boots in the Outdoor industry are the ones with the fewest seams. At the Innovation for Extremes Conference, most probably 20 years ago, Dr Mark Taylor reported that he had tested two pairs of near identical boots: same brand, but one with a waterproof membrane, one without. The boots were covered with sensors (inside & out) to evidence the conditions being experienced. The main conclusion: the membrane did have an influence – but not as much as the size of rand or the number of seams (that then had to be taped). Rands are important for protection of the footwear. For those who know about the specifics (as Alexa’s blog has revealed) the subject of better glues is very current.

The dynamics of the foot

It is well known that a day’s walking will produce around a half-litre of perspiration per foot – that sweat needs to escape. Fortunately sweat does go up due to the body heat associated – but can it escape through the layers around your lower leg (two pairs of socks/ trousers/ gaiters)? It the moisture does not get removed – the conditions for blisters are created in enclosed footwear. The foot is also a mass of bones to the extent that suitable protection needs to be provided so that it does not becomes the weak spot: the military point out how it costs 10,000s of euros to train a soldier – so saving 10 euros on a pair of boots is a foolish investment. The main difference between the trainers & boots is that the latter has a footplate – this is based on the drawing-pin theory. When walking over something pointed the pressure will drive just into one part of the foot, but if there is a plate – this will distribute the force over a wider area (so not wear too much on the foot). Trainers don’t have this requirement, but there is the whole barefoot debate. On top of this is the mono-material of shoes in combination with the 3D knitting technology. Leathers are a whole new case study – but there is growing interest in recycled leather with a PU binder.

The only thing guaranteed is change

With just a selection of these variables you can conclude that there are still discussions to be had. The only thing that I do know is that the flex test is only going to grow in importance. Hence something like PERFORMANCE DAYS as an opportunity to chat about these common themes in the future of our industry is important…

Charles Ross

About the Author

Charles Ross

Royal College of Art- Lecturer in Performance Sportswear Design

Having exchanged being an Outward Bound Instructor for the warmth of indoors, Charles has helped teach the next generation of designers for two decades now. Sustainable through longevity is a core principle.

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Exhibitor List March 2024