For years, the sneakerhead market was a boys’ club. Everything centered on men’s tastes and men’s sizes–testosterone all but oozed from sneakerhead blogs like Highsnobiety, Hypebeast, and Complex. Women, myself included, were often left out when it came to finding exclusive editions in their sizes. But with the women’s sneaker market growing 5% in the last year, athletic brands are paying attention. Just look at Nike, which unveiled a female-focused retail concept called Unlaced during Paris Fashion Week.
Unlaced will debut to the public March 27 as the primary online destination for Nike sneakers for women. Shop-in-shop locations will appear this summer. The concept takes the sneakerhead formula—new styles, increased product offering, customization—and aims it squarely at women. “The idea of providing access to [a woman’s] favorite Nike sneakers and the best of Nike is something that we’re really passionate about,” says Julie Igarashi, the vice president and creative director for NikeWomen.
The women’s market overshadowed men’s with sales growing by 5% from 2016. “So far sneaker culture has always been about the guys but with the women’s sneaker market growing and actually outpacing the men’s that’s changing,” says Clare Varga, active director at trend forecasting agency WGSN. “Social media has played a key part in this and now female sneakerheads like Aleali May are really establishing themselves as influences. There’s also online groups like the International Girl Crew–whom Nike has worked with–who are creating sneaker communities to empower girls and female designers.”
Matt Powell, the vice president and senior industry advisor -sports at NPD, echoes that women have long been neglected in the athletic footwear and apparel market, but that’s starting to change with startups like Shoes of Prey and Allbirds. “I have described the women’s footwear and apparel market and activewear as our greatest failure and our greatest opportunity, so I’m glad to see brands are now finally beginning to address this market more aggressively,” he says. “There are female sneakerheads out there, and they’ve been forced to buy boys’ shoes for the most part.”
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