The Footwear Evolution

Footwear has evolved from being a product to protect the most overburdened part of our body to one that projects our identity. From a protector for the hunter-gatherer to a fashion accessory for the millennial, its evolution has been as breath-taking as apparel. This category has all the nuances of apparel like fashion orientation, extended supply chains and low tech manufacturing, yet it is different because, in fashion, fabrics can be used across collections while shoes need specific material to be tooled by hand. Cut sizes are challenging at the retail point for both apparel and footwear but wrong footwear is very painful as compared to a wrong-sized T-shirt. Today while fashionable footwear is a marker, the growth in fashionable sneakers tell us that the function of walking comfort continues to be the most important criterion in making a purchase decision.

Fashion Evolution in footwear

You can never take too much care over the choice of your shoes. Too many women think that they are unimportant, but the real proof of an elegant woman is what is on her feet

Christian Dior

The Market Sees Stagnation

The global footwear market shrank by 13.3% in 2020 to reach a value of USD 279,081.3 million with a CAGR of -0.5% from 2016-2020. The  CAGR is anticipated to grow at the rate of 2.9% for the five-year period 2020-2025, which is expected to drive the market to a value of USD 321.7bn by the end of 2025. Comparatively, the Asia-Pacific and US markets will grow with CAGRs of 4.6% and 1.5%, respectively and reach sales values of USD 112.1bn and USD 85.2bn in 2025. The large loss has been because of shutting down of brick and mortar retail outlets during COVID. A rise in global e-commerce sales helped offset the loss of revenue generated from shoe stores.

Footwear Growth and stagnation in Pandemic
Source: Marketline

28.4% of the global market sales comes from the US and 28.9% from the whole of Europe. The Asia-Pacific market will decline with a CARC of -0.8%, and the US market will increase with a CAGR of 0.3%, over the same period, to reach respective values of USD 89.8bn and USD 79.2bn in 2020. In China in the past, growth in this market was driven by a large growing population, whereas today, it is being driven by the increased purchasing power of Chinese buyers. India has become a favourable market for fashion retailers on the back of a large young adult consumer base, increasing disposable income and relaxed FDI norms.

‘Athleisure’ the word coined for leisurewear designed using sportswear ideas has gained immense popularity. Exercising shoes has crossed the realm of being used just for training or fitness occasions to being used for general purposes. Adidas has leveraged this momentum and has gained large volumes of sneaker sales due to this trend.  The cultural shift of athletic footwear being repurposed not only as everyday wear but as fashionable footwear has changed the dynamics of the footwear market.

They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.

Imelda Marcos

Shoe Technology and Fitting Guide

Footwear Fitness guide

In contrast to apparel, the key attribute in footwear is the perfect fit. An improper fit creates functional disabilities and hence it has lots of engineering associated with its production. Shoemaking has been a skill, which even today in specialised material is seen as a handicraft. Shoemakers like, John Lobb, a London bootmaker established in 1866, will happily hand-stitch you a pair of Oxford brogues shaped around every dimple and bump in your feet, but they will cost £4,000 and may take six months to deliver. 

Trials and Returns

Trails before buying a shoe are the most critical aspect of the whole shoe purchasing process. While online businesses are challenging this attribute today, yet most of the footwear specialty stores thrive in aiding the consumer’s fit check process by providing them with trial shoes, walking and running spaces inside the outlet. While fashionable footwear has driven increased purchases, but walking comfort is experienced only post-purchase.

The biggest challenge for online retailers is on returns. Returns for items bought online are generally higher than those purchased in bricks and mortar stores.

Returns in footwear is a challenge
Source: Forrester

I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world  

Bette Midler

Footwear Categories and Segments

Shoes get categorised by gender, age, usage occasion, material and type of soles etc. In specialty retail outlets shoes are also placed by their wear occasion. 

A.    Gender & Age

52.5% of the global footwear sales happens to be women’s while men’s account for only 29.3%. By 2020 women’s footwear will reach USD 145.6bn, equivalent to 52.2%,  while men’s footwear will contribute revenues of USD 81.8bn in 2020, equating to 29.3% of the market’s aggregate value.

Women’s Footwear145,642.552.2
Men’s Footwear81,774.829.3
Children’s Footwear51,664.018.5
Global footwear market category segmentation: $ million, 2020(e)

Men’s And Women’s Shoe Range

Footwear range for Men and women

Boy’s and Girl’s Shoe Range

Footwear range for kids

B. Usage Occasion

C. Design and Fashion

The sheer variety of footwear available today is mind-boggling. Helping make fashionable footwear choices without losing out on its functionality is in itself an industry today, with many how-to videos available on the internet.

World Footwear Consumption

Shoe design has been the key reason for the increase in footwear consumption. The United Kingdom was the leading country as of August 2019 by the number of per capita footwear usage with an average of 7.4 pairs of shoes in use per person. The United States came second with a difference of only 0.2 pairs. In Russia, only 2.4 pairs of shoes per capita were recorded on average. Women on average tend to hold twice the number of pairs as men in the developed and emerging countries.

The large variety means shoe purchases are both serious as well as indulgent purchases and consumes a serious amount of shopping time. Now with the abundance of information on the internet, the process of search is not driven by need but has become more of a break time activity. Scrolling for footwear influencers on Instagram, creating own footwear boards on Pinterest and scouring social media for new arrivals is a continuous activity. The following tables show that while men look for work and combat boots women tend to be searching for regular comfort wear.

Searches for Footwear on the internet

“I never compromise comfort for style, because I choose to live a life on my own terms


D.    Innovation in Material

The materials used to build shoes have seen some innovative developments. While leather was the old school material, rubber was the all-weather material. With innovations in artificial fibres and shock-absorbing material like foam, shoemaking has evolved into fine art. The type of soles and uppers make a dramatic difference to utility and fashion. Plastic and resin which had a douchy feel earlier now have upped their design and style quotient along with a feel-good skin touch. Brands like Crocs have contributed to making colourful lightweight fashionable footwear from resin.

Products used to make footwear
Types of material in footwear manufacturing

E.    Shoes for Special Needs

With ageing and more scientific understanding of physical challenges, shoes for the aged or people with special medical conditions have seen good innovation, medical focused ortho shoe players like Dr Scholls; Velcro laced shoes and shoes with cork bases like Birkenstock have a distinct customer base.

F.     Ethical Shoes and Profitable Businesses

With sustainability and ethical practices impacting customer sentiments, this is a distinct business model developing across the globe. Footwear players committing to using natural material, reduction in usage of toxic material, and even building models around social causes have multiplied especially in developed countries. 

Toms the ethical footwear maker

“My goal with toms is not only to sell you a classic shoe but also to help make the idea of giving a part of your style”

Blake Mycoskie

Drivers of Footwear Buying Behaviour

The category largely gets driven by fashion, even though usage occasion of the products play a critical role in the choice of the footwear being made;

1.    Differentiation by occasion

Boots in cold regions, rainwear in tropical climates, in-home-wear in cold regions, Elevator shoes for formal wear, and Boat shoes are worn on semi-formal times. Wearing different shoes for different occasions has been the marketeer’s startegy to increase the number of shoes in an individual’s closet. By defining fashionable footwear as the one which should complement the dress worn for that occasion, footwear purchases have kept their foot inside the fashion door.

2.     Brand influences

The sportswear category has been highly driven by brands and high decibel marketing. Nike and Adidas now have cult followings.

Jens Jakob Andersen did a study for based on 134,867 reviews of 391 running shoes from 24 brands. This study compares the list price of running shoes with how well rated they are. The key conclusion is that expensive running shoes are not better than more affordable ones. In fact, inexpensive running shoes are better rated than expensive ones. We expected specialist running brands to outperform standard sports brands significantly, but looking at the data, there’s only a small difference. Running specialist brands perform 2.8% better than general sports brands.

There is nothing wrong with a company selling premium running shoes, but in my honest opinion, it is a problem when a running shoe brand spends massive amounts of money on marketing to promote products consumers dislike

Jens Jakob Andersen

3.    Fashion – category & colour preferences

Fashion plays a large role in footwear buying, especially in the women’s category. Styling, colour, heels and embellishments influence these purchases. Here, large retail chains stores use their scale to build private label designs and sell them in limited quantity as women want their products to be unique and would not want to be caught wearing something similar to another lady in an event.

“In the West, the lion’s share of spending on luxury fashion and accessories is done by women,” says Winston Chesterfield, director of research at Wealth-X, a consultancy. “But in Asia, there are huge numbers of men who go out shopping for themselves, and who constitute a much greater percentage of spending in that market.” Brands are designing for their differing fashion footwear tastes.

Tony Gaziano of Gaziano and Girling, a Bespoke footwear maker says that Chinese men go for crazy colours. “Men are looking like magpies at images on Instagram and getting things they like rather than conforming to a fashion.” With Instagram helping niche, independent designers promote their products; style conscious rich Asian men have reached out to get custom designed footwear. They assert their identity through these bespoke products which are of high quality rather than reflect their value by wearing branded footwear.

Source: All graphs and tables – Indix

Impact of colour on choices of footwear by gender and age

I tried going to shoebuyers Anonymous but they ask you to stop buying shoes


New Trend and Fashion Forecasts

A panel regularly forecasts trends for world footwear, an organisation dedicated to collect footwear data and then redistribute it in an intelligible way. Their panel continues to believe that sneakers and other sports-related footwear, as well as other footwear with textile uppers, will continue to gain market share in the near future. On the contrary, prospects for classic leather footwear, particularly men’s footwear, are getting gloomier as non-classic material combined with ethical issues are redefining fashionable footwear. Waterproof and other plastic or rubber footwear are now expected to evolve positively.


Innovations in Footwear

  • W-21 in Amsterdam has the technology to scan customers feet by laser, make them run on a modified treadmill in a special pair of shoes stuffed with accelerometers, pressure gauges, thermometers and hygrometers and then design footwear accordingly.
  • “Le Chal” (“take me along” in Hindi) pairs a smartphone app through Bluetooth with a small actuator and an obstacle-detector sewn inside the sole.  It connects with navigation maps to signal for directions and warns about forthcoming obstacles either through vibrations in the footwear or through alarms in the app.
  • Vibram, an Italian sole manufacturer, unveiled a prototype of their Five Fingers shoe, a glove-like slipper with individual toe compartments, at a trade show in Salt Lake City in 2005.
  • Gaziano & Girling make a pair in 22k Gold. Another one of their shoes is made using a glinting stingray or with bite Burnhams in green alligator.
  • Antonia Saint Dunbar, an entrepreneur, uses an app to create 3D images of the feet. Their shoes come with a heel cup and strips inside to stop the foot slipping around and getting blisters. Some of the shoes also come with adjustable heels: two inches for the boardroom, four for the nightclub, none for the schlep home.
  • “Ugly” designs to create standout footwear is suddenly attractive. A Nicolas Ghesquière design for Louis Vuitton called the Archlight features a soaring, accentuated gothic arch instep and is easily the prettiest extreme trainer out there.  Sneakers like Triple S by Balenciaga and B22 by Dior Homme all form a part of the “Ugly” is a distinctive style.
  • A limited quantity of unique footwear is also an attempt by brands to create demand. The Triple S priced at £600 was pre-ordered to an extent that there were none available on retail shelves.
  • Sports shoes, sneakers which were first designed for sports and later used by regular customers for exercises and training morphed into regular wear because of their comfort and protection. With celebrities like Kanye West, a rapper and producer who has designed trainers with Reebok, Nike, Louis Vuitton and Adidas, marketing sneakers have now pushed themselves into the fashionable footwear arena. 

It’s funny how sneakers became the male corsage of contemporary culture 

American Designer Rick Owens

In the next part of this article, we will explore the new business models evolving in this category and the impact of technology on these startups. How technology can impact fashionable footwear will be one of the innovations to look out for.

For more extensive analysis and Market Intelligence reports feel free to approach us or visit our website: Venture Capital Market Intelligence Reports | VCBay.

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The author has over two decades of experience navigating, crossing channels, sinking, and floating across different retail businesses and various categories. He believes that the final game of any business is in getting its consumers to enjoy the whole process of pre to post-purchase moments, and a smart investor chooses businesses that consistently delivers these moments.


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