Happy Hunger Games

Welcome, welcome…to our semi-annual seasonal preview issue, where the style wars commence once again.

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It’s our February issue and that can only mean one thing: time for our fall product reaping, where we gather the latest trends for the buying arena (i.e. store shelves). That’s when the real bloodletting begins. In the end, the styles that perform best at sell-through will allow the respective brands and retailers to emerge victorious. It’s our industry’s ongoing version of The Hunger Games.

I can’t help noticing parallels between our industry and the hit book and movie series (starring Hollywood’s latest “it” girl, Jennifer Lawrence) that chillingly depicts a dystopian society part Brave New World, part Lord of the Flies and a little 1984. First, fashion plays a pivotal role in both. Second, our industry, too, has a kill-or-be-killed ruthlessness. Winners always emerge, but a staggering number of losers fall prey to the fashion industry beast each season. Many never even get onto store shelves to compete in the retail arena. The aisles are littered with casualties by the time the tradeshows close.

The entry round has only gotten more brutal, as a weak economy continues to force retailers and wholesalers to play it safe with conservative designs and established brands. This risk aversion is a growing concern among both retailers and wholesalers. To borrow a few more Hunger Games references, it’s a trend we may all live to Rue. Because our industry is always in need of a Mockingjay—a brand or style that creates the right spark to ignite a revolution in sales. Is there a Katniss Everdeen-like style or brand in the pages of this issue?

Just like the gamemakers in The Hunger Games, we give odds to each style and place bets on which we think will come out on top next fall. There are presumed winners (Careers), dark horses and underdogs, but no guarantees. Expect plenty of surprises and some devastating disappointments. It’s too bad shoes can’t form alliances to stay alive for as long as possible. Who knows? We have smartphones and increasingly wearable forms of technology. Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future there will be smart shoes, too—styles that could morph on shelves to take on trending characteristics. We already have shoes that change color in sunlight, so how far a leap is it?

Until then, the battle remains in human hands. It starts with talented designers homing in on the right trends to create shoes consumers will want to buy. Then comes the “prep team” of logistics personnel, marketers and salespeople, who make sure these styles get made properly, priced accordingly, ordered by retailers and shipped on time. From there, the retailers step in to merchandise, advertise and sell effectively. That’s a whole lot of effort to pique the attention of shoppers. And with so many consumer goods competing for a piece of their discretionary dollar, it’s a wonder any shoe is ever crowned in the greater retail arena.

But, as history has proven repeatedly, we have our share of victors. And we have an eager audience watching. How eager? Consumers shelled out $72 billion on shoes in 2013, according to The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America’s (FDRA) annual report. While overall units were down, dollar volume increased, thanks to higher overall price points. Knowing the enormous effort involved in making shoes and selling them, I say the price increase is more than deserved. And the $72 billion should give both hope and incentive to all contenders in our industry’s never-ending Hunger Games.

As they say in the book, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

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