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fall trends, show vibes and industry buzz

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It’s all here: key fall trends, show vibes and industry buzz coming out of Outdoor Retailer, FN Platform, FFANY, ENKWSA and The Atlanta Shoe Market.

A crop of new fashion, outdoor, comfort, men’s, women’s and children’s brands gathered under one roof of the Las Vegas Convention Center for FN Platform, confirming what many industry insiders have suggested since the show’s debut two years ago: FN Platform is the new best in shoe shows.

The show boasted a diverse roster of more than 1,500 brands, including Ecco, Camuto Group, Clarks, Merrell and Steve Madden and newcomers like Rachel Roy, Jorge Biscoff and Isaac Mizrahi. The mood was positively upbeat and optimistic, and with a 16 percent spike in first day retailer attendance, there was a sense of new relationships being forged, orders being made and business getting done.

“We did more in two days than we used to cover in four days at the WSA show,” reports Robert Goldberg, owner of New York-based Harry’s Shoes. Robert Schwartz, second time attendee and owner of New York-based Eneslow Comfort Shoes, lauded the “well-run show” for serving the industry’s needs, a sentiment that was heard across the show floor. “It’s a real shoe show,” says Leslie Gallin, vice president of FN Platform. “Traffic was robust, people were elated and there’s a good feeling that the industry has united,” she adds. Bill Langrell, COO for Taos, reported every one of its four booth tables were going strong. “Appointments have pretty much all been kept and the reaction to our fall line has been excellent,” he says, noting Taos will expand its booth by 10 square feet and will have six tables for the August edition of the show.

For Palladium, which experienced about 40 percent more booked appointments than the previous show, FN Platform proved to be a prime place to meet major chains, key independents and retailers from Canada. Vice President of Sales Dennis Walker reports the brand’s new line of white-soled styles was especially popular. “The price point at $49.99 is attractive,” he notes, keying into the fact that retailers are still focusing on costs. Sales reps for Dav noticed a similar interest in its moto-inspired rain boot that retail for $55, and high-end designer Ryan Haber fully expected retailers to be price-cautious. “We’re not going to appeal to every buyer who attends this show, but we’re still getting attention,” he explains.

Gallin says the show’s new approach to wayfinding, by adding street names to rows, helped buyers navigate the show’s homogenous environment more easily. “The layout is more efficient and the open booths allow us to get an overview,” Goldberg agrees. In fact, that simple layout with straight aisles, booths of the same height and five well-defined categories is part of what many retailers enjoyed, cementing the simple aesthetic as a show signature. “It’s extremely well organized—if I want to shop western boots, it’s all conveniently placed in one section and I get it done efficiently,” notes Ed Habre, owner of The Shoe Mill in Portland, OR. “Everyone is here and there is less fanfare, which is a good thing. Give us a chair, a table and some paper to write on and we’re good. Let us look at the shoes so we can get down to business,” he adds.

Still, a good shoe show needs hot shoes and FN Platform offered a plethora of trends to suit all tastes, including Fall ’12 must-haves like fringe, loafers, sweater prints and snakeskin. Gallin noticed weathered leathers and vintage details across the show floor, a look that Taos’ Langrell says retailers are still scooping up. “Our customers respond well to stones, jewels and hardware on shoes—something that makes them more feminine and takes them out of the realm of a basic outdoor lifestyle,” he describes. Jewels and glitter sparkled across Titan Industries’ host of brands as well. “Retailers want to give consumers something different this season because they already have a closet full of basics,” explains Brad Bailey, president of Titan Industries. Colorful printed fabrics and feminine ribbon laces winterized Elizabeth Brady’s flirty collection as well.

On the men’s front, color-rich lace-up boots in blue and oxblood piqued retailers’ interest at Ted Baker, along with distressed boots with tweed panels and boots with ultra-thick soles. Modern cap toes, wingtips and sleek monk straps were bestsellers for Hugo Boss, especially styles with easy-to-wear, flexible rubber bottoms. —Angela Velasquez

The buzz coming out of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City, UT, was strong across all fronts. Record attendance of more than 21,000, as well as a record amount of exhibitor space (of which 258 were footwear brands, accounting for nearly a quarter of all exhibitors), proved that OR is no longer a niche shoe show for specialty dealers. In fact, OR’s growth mirrors the growing popularity of the outdoor lifestyle from both end-use and fashion perspectives. The show’s only blemish was the weather—a snowstorm in the Pacific Northwest prevented people in that region from getting to the show on time. And, ironically, the overall lack of snow nationwide this winter caused many retailers to pull back on their weather-related purchases for Fall ’12. Not to mention, the slowly recovering economy still had an impact.

“Cautious optimism seems to be the best word to use,” says Georgia Shaw, marketing manager for Vibram FiveFingers, in describing the general mood of buyers. “Everyone recognizes that the economy and mild weather conditions have affected sales, but most retailers are expecting a busy spring season to work through inventory.” In particular, Shaw says buyers seemed willing to try new items to keep their sales floor fresh and drive business.  

Ian Jackson, vice president of sales for Cloven Footwear, concurs that many buyers were hungry for fresh styles, adding that traffic was solid throughout the show. “The buyers were really excited to see new products,” Jackson says. Specifically, he notes the brand’s Camp boot and Bostonian hybrid casual sneaker showed well.

First-time OR exhibitor Primigi USA experienced a similarly strong reception of its children’s shoe offerings. Bill LaRossa, president, says while OR is definitely not a “children’s shoe show,” the brand’s Gore-Tex collection fits right into the mix. “Our Made in Italy Gore-Tex boots were well received,” he affirms. “Buyers were impressed by how lightweight and easy-to-pack they are, which was a key selling point with this customer base.” LaRossa notes that the designs were also a fresh alternative to the traditional hiking silhouettes found at the show. “These are customers that we don’t see anywhere else and who could end up being a significant portion of our business,” LaRossa says, adding that the brand plans to exhibit again at the show.

Kenji Haroutunian, OR show director, attributes the increasing popularity with footwear brands and retailers to OR being fully merchandised. “Footwear is seen in the context of the outdoor lifestyle and the activities it is designed for,” he says. “Retailers are networking for intelligence from adjacent categories that they then apply to their business.” He adds, “Intelligence gathers, and is gathered, at OR.”

Trend-wise, the runaway footwear theme was minimalist constructions. Vibram FiveFingers, VivoBarefoot, Rockport’s Tru Walk Zero collection, the New Balance Minimus line, Skechers’ Gorun debut and Merrell Barefoot were just some of the latest natural motion products on display. Category creator Vibram FiveFingers continued its push into year-round product offerings with the debut of its Lontra and Speed XC models. Both styles incorporate a water-resistant fabric and taped seams. “For years our consumers have been asking for a water-resistant model,” Shaw says. “We did extensive R&D on these styles to make sure that we could offer water resistance without sacrificing flexibility and ground feel.”

For VivoBarefoot, its Gobi desert boot received a strong reaction, according to Michelle Hinsvark, U.S. marketing manager. In women’s, popular colors included aubergine and purple in both performance and lifestyle collections. Hinsvark adds that after the success of the Ra, a men’s dress casual shoe that debuted last season, retailers were excited to see the full range of casual products. The trend mirrors the natural motion category’s expansion into an everyday lifestyle option. “We believe the category will continue to grow and change the shape of the footwear industry,” Hinsvark maintains.

Another popular trend at OR was the barrage of slippers, spanning from classic indoor styles to campsite-friendly after-sport designs. Bearpaw, Cloud Nine, Staheekhum, Acorn, Haflinger, Baabaazuzu and Giesswein were some of the brands offering slippers. Scott Prentice, executive vice president and director of Haflinger USA, reports buyer traffic was great all the way through Sunday at noon. “Our slippers, clogs and after-sport shoes have been selling well at retail and buyers came to see our latest updates,” he says. Additional Haflinger standouts, Prentice adds, were wool clogs with whimsical designs and new colors in its best-selling styles. “The more intricate the design and more colorful, the better they sold,” he says.

Despite the mild winter, Bogs President Bill Combs says the brand is weathering the lack of weather with its three-season product positioning. It doesn’t have to snow; it just has to be muddy and wet, he says. As such, Bogs’ new women’s Plimsoll collection, the next generation of its Classic printed boots, was well received thanks to a sleeker look (built on a slimmer last), new handle treatment and modern prints and colors. “Our new Baby Bogs (for infants and toddlers in sizes 5 to 10) also received a positive response, but the biggest surprise was the interest in our basic black farm and agricultural utility boots, which is what we’re really known for,” Combs says. —Greg Dutter

It was business as usual this February at The Atlanta Shoe Market—meaning more brands and more buyers, as the show continues its steady growth and becomes a go-to show for retailers from the Southeast and beyond. This go-round, exhibitors were even taking over the food court in an area aptly named “The Shoe Court,” and brands like Frye set up shop in the surrounding retail space, creating a fair approximation of its New York showroom. “I had the vision of using the mall stores, and that worked beautifully,” reports Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager and executive director of show sponsor Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association. “We’re trying all kinds of ways to update the show.”

And the effort is paying off: The show boasted a 5 percent bump in exhibiting brands according to pre-registration numbers, as well as an impressive 29 percent increase in retailer attendance. Both set records for the show and continue on TASM’s solid growth curve spanning back nearly a decade. In fact, there was a waiting list of approximately 60 brands who couldn’t find space in the Cobb Galleria Centre. “The show was tremendous for Rieker & Remonte Dorndorf,” says Rich Rask, vice president of Rieker Shoe Corporation. “Traffic in our booth was solid and consistent,” he adds. Blake Vaigneur, owner of South Carolina-based fashion brand Rowen, agrees that TASM is a prime spot for business. Noting that FFANY is good for getting lots of foot traffic and Sole Commerce helps Rowen pick up international accounts, Vaigneur says. “We have a lot of Southern accounts we see, and we also pick up a lot of new accounts at TASM.”

Yet while the show floors were buzzing with business, many buyers—still scarred by years of recession—seemed hesitant to state that 2012 will be a big year for business. “We’re hoping it’s going to be better,” offers Wendy Burgette, owner of Monkees, an apparel and footwear store in Blowing Rock, NC. “We’re excited for spring, because there’s a lot of color,” she adds. “I think it will give people a reason to buy something besides black and brown.” Vaigneur at Rowen seconds the support for brighter hues: “Some of our basics is where we’ve done color, and it’s done really well,” he says, pointing to the brand’s suede wedge pump in shades of tangerine and fuchsia. For fall, Burgette at Monkees predicts fresh shades like burgundy and gray will tempt shoppers to splurge.

However, even neutrals may keep customers coming back for more, as brands tempted buyers with fresh updates like material-mixing that meshes everything from canvas, suede and patent leather with embellishments like haircalf and fur. Tanise Hill, senior designer at Restricted, says the brand’s styles featuring color-blocking in neutral hues have been a big hit with retailers.

All in all, Conwell-O’Brien notes, it added up to a tempting assortment for retailers finally looking to take some risks. “The mood for the retail community is the economy is getting better, so they are opening up their purse strings to buy a little more, which of course makes the exhibitors happy, too.” And the show’s timing and setting are also giving attendees reason to smile. “We’ve stayed focused on the things that make this show so productive for everyone: convenient, affordable, accommodating,” Conwell-O’Brien notes. “It’s what the industry wants and it continues to work. There’s no doubt: This was our best show yet.” —Audrey Goodson

FFANY’s February show offered retailers lots of new options—especially of the Italian variety. Thanks to the Italian Trade Commission and the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), 24 vendors from Italy showcased their collections at the Hilton Hotel in New York. Not to mention, 48 first-time brands launched their collections at the show.

“Traffic was definitely up, with great help from ANCI and the Italian trade commission,” reports Kevin Powers, head of U.S. sales for Italian brand Gidigio. Phyllis Rein, senior vice president at FFANY, seconds that assessment: “There was a buzz from the moment the doors opened,” she reports. “Traffic was flowing steadily throughout the three days of the show, with the first day being the strongest.”

Steve Sedlbauer, president of Cougar, agrees. “Generally, the traffic was slightly better than previous shows,” he notes. “However, for Cougar, the quality of the traffic was much better. Retailers were responding favorably based on this past fall’s performance,” he adds, pointing to the brand’s popular Pillow boot and fashion wedge boots as big sellers. Sedlbauer notes, however, that retailers were “very cautious in the cold weather category” thanks to this winter’s unseasonably warm weather. “They are hoping to sell additional product in the coming weeks to open up budget for more fresh product for next fall,” he adds.

Despite the lack of cooperation from Mother Nature, Rein describes retailers as “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to loosening the purse strings for 2012. “Retailers seemed open minded as vendors introduced new styles, colors and textures for the new season,” she adds. From Western-inspired updates on boots to Mad Men-inspired ’60s-era details, eye-catching embellishments seemed to be the way to capture the dollar of cautious shoppers. And this year, vendors were able to give those styles lots of room, thanks to FFANY’s new bed removal option, which “created a more conducive selling atmosphere for manufactures and retailers,” Rein adds, noting that 50 percent of brands took advantage of the new perk. “Numerous vendors were extremely happy as they were selling and moving their pre-packstock for immediately delivery,” she notes.

Yet even with all of the positive buzz, there were still grumbles from retailers concerned about brands offering their wares online, Powers notes. “The biggest conversation was about how retailers are competing with their wholesalers on company websites that sell to the retail customer, with frustration and margin squeeze as the verdict,” he notes. “The customer felt that the wholesaler should partner, rather than compete, with them.” —A.G.

Everybody is talking about it. Plenty more are complaining about it. And there are those who have thrown up their hands in disgust about the rising costs related to sourcing footwear out of China. While one strategy has been to go deeper and further into China’s mainland (which comes with its logistical challenges and freight increases), others are looking to new countries and factory partners to address their sourcing needs. Either way, the industry buzzword of late is sourcing.

Fittingly, the new format of the ENKWSA show, held last month in the Sands Expo and Convention Center, was all about sourcing. The trade show featured seminars designed to address sourcing issues and offer strategic solutions, and exhibitors consisted of foreign suppliers focused on fast fashion, first-cost footwear and other elements of the supply chain, including components and materials. David Kahan, president of the ENK Footwear Group, likened the exhibitor base to “the United Nations of Footwear,” as 35 countries were in attendance. “Attendees included buyers as well as design, development and sourcing staff from many leading branded suppliers,” he says. “The show was ideal for large chain buyers that do first-cost business and retailers that do fast, affordable fashion.” Kahan adds, “Even smaller retailers shopped plenty of suppliers offering small minimums and open stock options to meet their needs.”

Kahan says the new ENKWSA format is unique compared to other trade shows. “For retailers that do first-cost and affordable fashion business, this format is critical to their success,” he says. “And for design/development and supply chain executives, it gives them the ability to shop factories, plus materials suppliers from around the globe, without the need for overseas travel.” Adding to the ease of shopping, Kahan says, was the 150,000 square feet of exhibitor space being situated on one floor and the booths in an open format, which enabled buyers to get an accurate read on trends. “Our intention is to create a simple market where business can be done easily,” Kahan adds. “We facilitated simple registration and entry procedures and, with so many different global attendees, our (May I Ask) booths were staffed with multi-lingual employees.” If that wasn’t enough, Kahan says ENKWSA also facilitated numerous matchmaking visits between attendees and suppliers.

Based on the reaction of show-goers, it appears ENKWSA delivered on its show premise. “This show covered a very important and profitable segment of our business. Having this focus was very important to us,” says Joseph Joseph, CEO of the New York-based V.I.M. chain. Mike Pare of Team Honu, a sandal supplier, agrees: “The number of resources and styles I saw at the show will help my business. In addition, I met new suppliers with better minimums and terms.” Adds Mike Batlin, executive director of Men’s Wearhouse, “This was a golden opportunity to find a couple of new factories.”

Kahan says the majority of those factories exhibiting at ENKWSA were still headquartered in China. But other countries strongly represented at the show included Taiwan, Pakistan, Mexico and Vietnam. And he anticipates that list will only expand to other regions of the world at future ENKWSA shows. “Our attendees are open to new, emerging sourcing partners and we expect to have factory bases in Africa and India,” he says.

Expect the upcoming ENKWSA show (Aug. 7-9) to be taken to the next level, including more exhibitors, as well as higher-end leather and other materials suppliers, according to Kahan. “We will surely be sold out,” he predicts. In the meantime, Kahan says ENKWSA will bring a virtual trade show to its customers. Select exhibitors will soon be able to post short videos on ENKWSA’s website to showcase their capabilities, including categories, timelines, compliance and minimums. “It can help attendees pre-plan appointments based on factory capabilities,” he says.

Lastly, Kahan says attendees can definitely count on another welcome party. This past show’s opening night “Dragon”-themed party offered plenty of food and drinks and, Kahan reports, was a great success. “We had 1,000 people attend. It provided a great opportunity to relax after a hard day working the show,” he says. —G.D.

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