Well, the show circuit is complete and it is that time of year again to step back and take a broad look at the market, identify new trends and areas of opportunity, and offer a few insights from an independent point of view. This latest round of shows saw no real shift in trends, but they did reinforce observations from seasons past.

SGMA finally pulled the plug on Super Show in favor of two new seasonal formats that will debut in 2007. The once energetic athletic footwear section at WSA continues to degrade as brands take refuge in the Venetian Suites and Wynn Hotel. The close proximity of the SIA and OR Winter Market again this year took a backseat to the overlap of the ISPO show dates with ORWM. Surprisingly, the overlap of two shows this year in Las Vegas — WSA overlapped with the SHOT Show for three days — paid fewer dividends for the exhibitor than expected. Many of the footwear vendors were forced to work two (and in some cases three or four) booths in an effort to see all of their customers attending both shows. Those yearning for the floor energy of WSA shows of the past only needed to head to the LVCC for a SHOT that had energy and traffic to spare.

Back in Vegas a week later, Sports Executive Weekly found that Project, the alternative show acquired by MAGIC last summer, had more energy and excitement than all the trade shows visited in the last year combined.  The aisles were full and buyers were writing orders!  Something most haven’t seen at a trade show in years. The message at Project was “denim-friendly.”  If a line wasn’t selling denim, then they were selling something to be worn with denim. The only dressy clothes in the building were on the backs of the investment bankers and analysts. 

The premium denim cycle remains in full swing.  The brands may be changing around to keep the look fresh but the fashion is right on point.  The silhouette continues to slim down.  Waistlines are coming back up (could they have gone any lower?).  But it’s all about jeans.

SEW thinks this remains really good news for the sneaker business as the shoe of choice was clearly sneakers, albeit in styles not often seen.  Every major sneaker was in attendance, including Nike (!). 

SEW spent time with the reps from Reebok, Adidas, Le Coq Sportif, Kappa, PF Flyers, Royal Elastics, Sperry, Converse, DC’s, Fred Perry, Puma, Lacoste, Ellesse, 555 Soul (licensed to And 1), Fila, and Pony.  Newcomer Creative Recreation had a crowd in front of the booth the entire show.  Pony’s well-edited collection finally starts to make sense. Where WSA was completely void of any new ideas or brands, Project was a buyer’s dream.

Most of the athletic brands were showing products specifically made for the upscale premium athletic lifestyle market.  However, the ideas in a more toned down form have application for every athletic retailer.  The looks were athletically inspired in unusual and luxury fabrics, with individualistic flourishes, ideally paired with better denim.  There very clearly is a market here that has implications for all of sporting goods.

At MAGIC, there was much less energy and, like WSA, very little new to see.  The hip-hop look really is dead this time, replaced with a more sophisticated urban look, best seen at Rocawear, LRG, Academiks, and newcomers Artful Dodger and Live Mechanics.  The energy that had driven South Hall was pretty much gone and specific only to a few booths. A trend SEW heard about coming out of the Juniors California market was a return to Flashdance/Olivia Newton John style leggings and tights.  This should also help the sneaker trend to continue. One other interesting subtext was the interest in skate from the urban market.  Word in the aisles was that some of the more prominent skate brands were opening regional urban players.

ASR felt like the 80’s had returned as super slim jeans and vulcanized rubber shoes were paired with neon and pink shirts. KR3W was one of the major forces behind the move to super slim in denim, but now it seems that every line is offering the option at least of slimmer fits. Whenever a discussion turns to the slim look, the topic of big and boxy skate shoes looking like boats is not far behind. And so things come to vulcanized. A staple of the early skate shoes, Vans is again riding high on the popularity of the look with their Classics collection ever-present on the show floor, though not on many retailers’ shelves. Another approach to the slim look is seen over at Etnies where they have re-released the classic Callicut as a Callislim in their 20th Anniversary collection. This is the same shoe as the original, but slimmed down by removing some padding in the upper and tongue.

On the apparel side, prints and plaids again returned, though not as frequently and often in a tonal variety that was more subdued than in the past. Hurley showed a line that was heavily influenced by the military look with olive drab, khaki, and gray touched up with epaulets, chevrons, and highlights of bolder colors. Reef expanded their denim line and had colors that resembled those shown by Hurley, but with more of an environmental bend. The story from the brand, though, was the expansion of the Fanning into the full-toed category with the Mick, and yes, the thirst-quenching tech was not left behind.

At WSA, the biggest news was that there was no new news.  We saw no new initiatives or concepts that would sustain the market.  As usual all of the buzz was about personnel moves and business troubles rather than about new fashion ideas. Most exciting new ideas were at Keds and Skechers’ new Zoo York license. Still, we may see some brands return to the floor, with Brooks confirming with SEW that they will indeed have a booth again next go ‘round. A strong January at retail had most attendees and exhibitors in the right mood, but the story of the hot performance running category and the recent strength of the Euro casual/fusion trend in middle America forced the conversation to turn from “how high is high” to “what’s next” or “when will it end.”

The frustration still remains for many athletic brands that need a central show format to showcase their total brand. The June show dates for SGMA’s new Spring Market have been received well and should offer the perfect venue for brands to present a broader picture of their lines. Let’s hope retailers buy in.