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Above, left to right: some of Superga's new Club S (left) and ladies (middle) ranges, and Fila's heritage-inspired look.
Q3 2017

Canvas makes way for heritage styles

Nostalgia for better days, a crippling economy and the reigning athleisure trend have all conspired to disrupt the sneaker market — to the benefit of European brands like Superga and more affordable South African brands with great styles

The good old days is not only a nostalgic yearning from old fuddy duddies. In these tough times, even young trendsetters hark back to happier times, like the fifties and sixties. The trendy styles their parents or grandparents grew up with, were from the European — especially Italian — brands that epitomised fashion style at the time.

The preppy look of these heritage brands has pushed the canvas and galvanized rubber basketball sneaker styles off some shelves.

A combination of an economy on the downslide and the rise of the European heritage brands have resulted in a rearrangement of the brands at the top of the sneaker popularity poll.

This has benefitted Italian brands like Fila and Superga, German brands like adidas and PUMA on the one side — as well as South African brands that have the look but do not come at the price.

They have embraced the current popularity of the athleisure trend — where fashion and sport merge to create a new on trend style.

Superga, for example, launched their new athleisure Club S range, which they believe retro lovers will obsess over! “Inspired by retro designs and a sporty tennis aesthetic, the Club S collection is a hot commodity this season,” say the brand’s local distributors.

“We’re very much in a retro fashion cycle today,” says Matt Powell, vice president and sports industry analyst of the US market research company, The NPD Group. “Millennials are really flocking to wearing old-school looks.”

In the fifties and sixties sneakers were often referred to as tennis shoes and it is this heritage that inspired styles like Superga’s Club S, or the renewed demand for adidas’ Stan Smith tennis style shoes. In addition, slides, espadrilles, pumps and mules complement this trend.

This look is combined with old school big logos on t-shirts, baggy jackets and sweatshirts, shorts and pullover sweaters, as seen in the recent Fila lifestyle ranges.

Earlier this year retailers were shocked to find that sneaker brands that always guaranteed good sales, were not moving.

New textures and profiles

“It is important to note that the bottom had dropped out of the galvanised rubber and canvas sneaker market, NOT the whole sneaker market,” qualifies a local sneaker brand distributor who wishes to remain anonymous.

The latest sneaker range developers have taken heed.

Superga’s sneaker range for spring/summer 2017/18, for example, feature an exciting array of textures, uppers and styles. It has something for everyone: on-trend fashion items, sneakers with retro-inspired sporty looks, even sneakers for the mini-me’s.

The new sport-inspired range is an up market range, with suedes and leathers in the uppers instead of canvas. This, together with “a classic design featuring trendy yet functional perforated holes the Club S collection will take your ensemble from the court to the streets,” explains David Abramsohn of Superga SA.

Internationally, Superga is big in the ladies’ market, while locally they had been focusing on the men … up until now, says Abramsohn. The local distributor is now investing in ladies in South Africa and making a concerted effort to also bring them fashionable sneakers that they will love.

The ladies range comes in a variety of uppers: snakeskin, suede, canvas, etc. There is an option for any taste.

While there is an increased emphasis on ladies now, Superga definitely still caters for its male customer — and there is a variety of styles to choose from. The men’s ranges are dominated by neutral black, white, navy and browns. Here and there is a surprise colourway, though, such as a purple.

The youngsters are also catered for in Superga’s fashion and Club S ranges. In addition to bright colours, the kids’ footwear range also features trends spotted in the adults’ range, for example pastels, metallics and glitter.

Comfort and style from Willow

Another local sneaker trend has been for cash-strapped consumers to buy a more affordable shoe in a style and design they fancy. This is where local brands like Willow and from JFK Trading have an edge over top-end international brands.

“But, it is tough for everyone out there as consumers are struggling to make ends meet,” says Graeme Katz of Katz Footwear. His Willow brand now has a range of lightweight, comfortable sneakers, that is within reach of the pocket of the average consumer.

“The first collection is bursting with style, comfort and endurance,” he says.

The sneakers each feature a woven nylon upper that has been designed to use as few pieces as possible to reduce seams, and makes the sneaker lightweight. This allows unobstructed flexibility to the midfoot while walking.

The soles further help to reduce weight. They are also flexible and durable, and are made from compressed EVA pellets that are heat expanded to close the air bubbles. “We are able to achieve a variety of beautiful colours using this material.

“Comfort is important to us because it allows you to wear the shoes and keep doing what you do for longer,” says Katz. For this, every pair of Willow sneakers have Gravity Cushion insoles, which combine latex memory foam and neoprene. “Over time, the inside of the shoe starts taking the shape of the foot and each stride becomes easier.”

Katz Footwear also has display and marketing equipment available for retailers to help support the product in-store.

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