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Looks Like Rain

In case you have been living under a rock the past year, the country is awash in rain boots. When it rains (or snows), it pours wellies—many in cheery colors and whimsical patterns. Rubber boots are the latest utilitarian fashion statement in a long line of user-friendly footwear staples, including Merrell’s Jungle Mocs, Ugg sheepskin boots, Crocs and ubiquitous flip-flops, to cite a few.

In case you have been living under a rock the past year, the country is awash in rain boots. When it rains (or snows), it pours wellies—many in cheery colors and whimsical patterns. Rubber boots are the latest utilitarian fashion statement in a long line of user-friendly footwear staples, including Merrell’s Jungle Mocs, Ugg sheepskin boots, Crocs and ubiquitous flip-flops, to cite a few.

Rather than run to higher ground, we embrace the rapidly emerging category with a special issue. The coverage starts with This Just In (p. 6), which offers a rainy day mosaic of stylish New York women wearing wellies. This is one case where the catchphrase, “Only in New York” rings untrue. Rain boots translate outside of uber fashion capitals to Middle America and beyond for the obvious reason that inclement weather occurs everywhere. In addition, it’s a go-anywhere and go-with-anything style.

Our Special Report (p. 8) provides useful merchandising tips on how to maximize sales in the category. Like the myriad of styles being offered, the first rule of thumb is to be eclectic. Wellies are foot candy, and the more you can tempt passersby with enticing flavors, experts say the better your odds of garnering a sale. Rain boots are also often an impulse buy, as are an increasing array of related accessories—be it sock liners, umbrellas, hats or gloves. Speaking of tempting, our fashion review (p. 24) highlights the latest Fall ’11 rain boots. Award-winning photographer Jason Hindley works his magic for us once again with an English garden at night time juxtaposition. Bias duly noted, but it’s simply stunning.

How long can this rain craze last—is the gauge half full or near the brim? One thing is certain: it’s not going to stop raining. (If the alternative happens, the ongoing viability of fashion trends will be the least of our concerns.) Perhaps the Uggs phenomenon offers clues. At its core, the sheepskin boot’s comfort attributes—both physical and emotional—keeps consumers coming back for more. Coupled with enticing fashion updates it’s become a beloved staple. Similarly, as long as rain boot suppliers put a fresh spin on designs while delivering on the utilitarian premise of keeping feet warm and dry, the category could attain closet staple status as well. It’s not like people will long for the days when their unprotected shoes were ruined or the times they were cold and miserable.

It’s a sentiment backed by Bill Combs, CEO of Bogs Footwear and the subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 10). Sales of Bogs’ all-weather boots increased 100 percent over last year, and Combs forecasts no let up in sight. He attributes the growth in part to a fundamental macro shift in consumer shopping behavior that seeks products that last a long time and deliver practical benefits—the very definition of a rain boot.

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