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Footwear trends
June/July 2010

The latest global

sportshoe trends

There are several trends currently emerging from the international markets ... barefoot running shoes, an increase in the performance running market while lifestyle leisure sales drop, the boom in toning shoes and more sustainable manufacturing

For those too young to know that Zola Budd is not a taxi but a speedy Bloemfonteiner who years ago made history as a 17-year old when she broke the women’s world 5 000m record (and proceeded to do it again before controversially tripping out of a possible Olympic gold), barefoot running might sound like something only people do when they can’t afford shoes. Those who were around in the 1980’s will know that Zola Budd ran away from all competitors — also at the World Cross Country Championship —in her bare feet. Barefoot running was her trademark.

That was nearly thirty years ago. Running barefoot is therefore nothing new — as many South Africans from urban communities will attest.

What is new is the current level of interest in the topic from runners, sport scientists and a huge number of bloggers on the internet. When Sports Trader published an article by Dr Ross Tucker of the Sport Science Institute in Cape Town on barefoot running about three years ago, there was mild interest.

Now it’s a hot topic, fuelled by a research paper published in Nature earlier this year, co-authored by Prof. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University’s department of human evolutionary biology and researchers at the University of Glasgow as well as Moi University in Kenya. They compared the running gaits of people who had always run barefoot, those who had always worn shoes, and those who had converted to barefoot running. They found that most runners wearing shoes heel-strike, while barefoot runners tend to land with a springy step toward the middle or front of the foot. This reduces the hurtful and potentially damaging impacts, equivalent to two to three times body weight, that heel-strikers running in shoes repeatedly experience.

Advocates of barefoot running, who have been claiming that running shoes can actually cause injuries, loved this.

But, the good news for retailers selling running shoes is that this is a controversial topic amongst scientists and runners alike and there is plenty of evidence that binning your running shoes will not necessarily result in injury-free running. There is actually some evidence to the contrary — that running barefoot would also causes injuries.

The top international running shoe brands all employ biokineticists and other experts to assist with designs, who produced evidence to support the wearing of running shoes (see for an interesting discussion).

“It strikes me that of the many issues in sports science, this is the one where taking the neutral, fence-sitting position is really the only option until proven otherwise,” Tucker remarked in his online newsletter, The Sport Scientists. Earlier this year he discussed the issues surrounding running barefoot and wearing running shoes in an in-depth six part series (see

One offshoot of this debate has been a spate of minimalist or barefoot running shoes from many well-known brands.

These shoes promote a forefoot-midfoot strike and there is minimal difference in the midfoot height between the heel and forefoot, therefore allowing the runner to have a more natural footstrike. There’s the Nike Free, New Balance MT100 or WT100 (for women), Saucony Kinvara, Brooks ST Racer, the Vibram FiveFingers gloves for feet, to name a few. There are also several styles, like Reebok’s ZigTech, that are sort-of leaning towards barefoot running.

Running shoes worn by runners

But, whether minimalist or offering solid support, another international trend is that more running shoes are nowadays bought by people who actually use them for running, rather than people who wear running styles to go shopping in the mall. Therefore, while the overall sales of athletic footwear are 3% down globally, the market research company NPD’s retail tracking service found that performance running shoe sales grew 3%.

There are 90m runners in the world, reports the news publication Sporting Goods Intelligence (SGI) Europe, and in 2009 the number of competitors in road races grew by 11%.

There has been a growth in the sale of performance running shoes specified as “used for running”in most markets. Last year sales in running specialist stores across the world grew by 7% to $682m. According to SGI sales of performance running shoes rose by 2.5% in the Big 5 countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK), by 1.3% in the US, by 5% in Canada and by 10.3% in Japan.

But, sales of running shoes used for leisure dropped in these markets — probably due to the current weak economic climate.

The benefit for retailers is that runners are generally willing to pay more for their running shoes than leisure wearers. According to NPD’s research, European runners are prepared to pay about €9.80 more, and Americans about $14.04 more.

Toning shoe boom

While SA retailers have not yet benefitted as much from the sale of toning footwear as their US counterparts, it can surely not be too long before SA consumers are caught up in the toning footwear trend that last year generated sales worth $145m (up from $17m in 2008) in the US. In the last quarter of 2009 sales of walking shoes in the US grew 57%, especially among women, thanks to the toning boom — and that in a time when overall athletic shoe sales were down 1.4%.

If this trend continues, some retailers are predicting sales in excess of $2bn this year.

In SA the response to the Reebok Easytone shoes “has been explosive and very exciting for us as this could be a real market breakthrough,” says Dayn Mamet, Reebok Assistant manager. So far the shoes have been predominantly bought by women, “however, we are soon to be launching the Runtone and Traintone, a more running inspired toner that will be aimed at men,” he says.

Reebok claims to have 40% of the $250m toning shoe market in the US, reports SGI.

After Reebok ran an advert for their Easytone shoes during daytime TV in Germany in April, 69% of all fitness and walking shoes for women sold in that month was from the Easytone series. During that month they grew their market share to 53.2% of the ladies’ fitness and walking footwear market (Asics held 35.9% in this market segment).

Skechers has been propelled to the #3 athletic footwear brand in the US through their Shape Up toning shoe sales (see article p6).

According to the NPD consumer attitude study, Toning/Shaping Footwear — Benchmark Study awareness of this type of footwear is higher among women (62%) than men and women are twice as likely to own a pair as men (6% versus 3%). A “scientific substantiation of the fitness claims” is the reason most likely to persuade the majority of respondents (65%) to buy a pair of these shoes. The second reason most likely to sway them is a trusted brand name (64%).

Sustainable manufacturing

For many footwear brands sustainability is no longer just a proper-sounding buzz-word.

Earlier this year Puma announced that it wanted to become the most sustainable company in the sports business — and recently said that it already wanted to become carbon-neutral this year.

In response to a request by the United Nations Environment Program (Unep), which called for football federations to offset the impact of their teams’ travel to SA for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Puma said it would compensate for their seven sponsored teams’ travel with several African projects. Consumers are given the opportunity to help determine which biodiversity programmes should benefit from the sales of their Unity range.

Puma also reached an agreement with twenty strategic suppliers — including three in SA (see article on Imphahla Clothing on p16) —that they will produce their own sustainability reports from next year in partnership with The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a specialist organisation that will advise the factories on sustainability reporting and ways to improve their operations.

The significance of this is that sports companies have in the past been accused of producing impressive sustainability reports, while their suppliers do not conform to the same standards.

Puma has been compiling information on its carbon footprint from all its offices and stores in the last five years and have installed several sustainable features at their head quarters. Earlier this year they also introduced a new packaging system that reduces the paper used for shoeboxes by 65%, carbon emissions by 10 tons per year and water, energy and diesel consumption by 60%.

Nike has announced that it might share its software program that analyses the environmental impact of all products with the industry. Products are awarded points for certain criteria, like the use of environmentally safe materials, the elimination of waste, the ability to be recycled etc.

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