Global strategy consultancy L.E.K. Consulting has released its third annual Brand Heat Index, revealing which brands are gaining in popularity, or increasing brand “heat,” across major product categories in women’s and men’s footwear and apparel.

While many of the top brands featured in last year’s report, including HeyDude, Nike, Shein, and Carhartt, continue to lead in their categories, the 2024 rankings show that some legacy brands are feeling the heat from relative newcomers. For example, On remains on top in women’s athletic footwear after initially surpassing Nike last year, with Hoka not far behind, while Lululemon is closing the gap with Nike in women’s athletic apparel.

The shake-up isn’t just in the athletic space, as Reformation has now replaced Michael Kors as the top brand in women’s dress apparel, and Skims is moving in on Shein for the top spot in women’s casual clothing, with Shein also dropping to third in men’s casual clothing.

“This year’s results continue to demonstrate the relevance of newcomer brands, as many brands across the top 10 lists were not household names 10 or even five years ago, and now they’re nearing or even out-pacing the heat of some of the historically most powerful brands in the industry. That represents a major change in the competitive landscape,” said L.E.K. Managing Director Jon Weber, the co-author of the 2024 U.S. Footwear and Apparel Brand Heat Index.

L.E.K. surveyed nearly 4,000 U.S. consumers between the ages of 14 and 55 to develop its 2024 Brand Heat Index. Within product categories and generational cohorts, each brand earns a heat score on a scale of 0-100 – the higher the score, the hotter the brand. About 450 brands were tested in this year’s survey to understand their popularity and the key factors behind it. The survey gathers feedback on brands across four product categories—athletic, casual, outdoor/rugged, and dress.

In footwear, the competition in 2024 has become increasingly fierce, with brand heat scores tightly packed among the leading brands, even in categories where legacy players have historically been dominant. Some leaders show consistent strength across genders. HeyDude is still the hottest casual footwear brand for both men and women, while Nike and Steve Madden are top-two footwear brands across genders for athletic and dress, respectively.

Crocs remains a major force in casual footwear, coming in second place for women and third for men. Ugg took another step up in both the casual and outdoor/rugged rankings for women, it’s first in outdoor/rugged and third in casual, while fifth and seventh for men’s outdoor/rugged and casual, respectively.

In general, women tend to be more excited about emerging footwear brands, with On, Hoka, Veja, Schutz, and others performing more strongly among women than men.

“Consumers continue to demand a lot from their footwear and apparel brands. Our research continues to point to brand appeal as the top affinity driver in consumers’ minds. Appeal exceeds style and is much more important than factors like comfort, quality and value. That suggests brands should strive for true affinity and brand engagement above the product itself,” said Laura Brookhiser, L.E.K. managing director and survey report co-author.

Athletic Footwear
The men’s athletic footwear rankings also show a story similar to last year, but this consumer is a bit slower to adopt emerging brands. Instead, Nike, Jordan, Adidas, and Under Armour again take the top four spots (in that order). NoBull fell out of the top 10 overall, though it still remains popular among Gen X, while Reebok’s comeback with younger generations brought it into the Top 10 this year.

In athletic footwear, a similar cohort of brands rises to the top for both men and women. Out of the 10 most popular brands for each gender, eight are the same. However, these brands do not have the same appeal across genders, as their rankings differ considerably. For example, On Running is the top brand for women but only fifth for men. The most notable changes in the athletic footwear market were driven by Gen Z. On Running and Hoka are lauded by this generation for their comfort, while New Balance’s success is driven by its on-trend style.

In women’s athletic footwear, we see a story similar to last year, with On Running, Nike and Hoka again taking the top three spots. The competition between On Running and Nike has been fierce, as they have traded top spots across generations. This year, On Running leads in Gen Z and Gen X, with both rankings driven by comfort, while Nike leads with millennials due to its brand reputation and style. On Running, Nike and Hoka have now created a material gap between themselves and the remainder of the competition. Jordan and Adidas, on the other hand, have maintained their
positions at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, but have seen declining heat scores overall.

Women’s Athletic Footwear

Men’s Athletic Footwear

Casual footwear
In casual footwear, brands with distinctive and identifiable silhouettes are the hottest. HeyDude, despite the recent headaches it is giving to parent company Crocs, Inc., leads in popularity for both men and women, while six other brands also appear in the Top 10 lists for both genders. Notably, Allbirds fell out of the Top 10 for both men and women.

HeyDude again takes the top spot in women’s casual footwear, followed by its owner, Crocs. HeyDude is No. 1 among both Millennials and Gen X and #3 among Gen Z. Crocs earns its highest scores among Gen Z and Millennials and has improved its score with Gen X. Ugg has climbed in the rankings to #3 overall due to its blend of comfort and style, particularly among Gen Z, where it takes the #1 spot. Vans and Dr. Martens have fallen down the list compared to last year (from #3 and #6, respectively), suggesting some cooling off.

Veja, meanwhile, continues its rise to #9; while it performs most strongly with Gen X, it has shown the greatest gains with Gen Z, which cites its style as being particularly relevant. HeyDude also remains in first place overall in men’s casual footwear and still holds the #1 spot with Gen X. Crocs’ overall brand heat score saw further growth versus last year, with increases among Gen Z (where it took #1) and Millennials; Crocs remains in the #3 position overall. Timberland moved into second place overall (from fourth last year), replacing Vans and taking first place among Millennials. Despite Vans’ improved brand heat score versus last year, its slippage in the rankings was driven by the strength of the category leaders. Meanwhile, Birkenstock is new to the men’s list and takes the #9 spot due to strength with Gen Z and Millennials, who recognize the brand for its quality. While Skechers is only #8 overall, it vastly over-performs within Gen X, who appreciates it for its comfort and durability.

Women’s Casual Footwear

Men’s Casual Footwear

Outdoor/Rugged Footwear
In 2024, the outdoor category was expanded to outdoor/rugged to reflect the lifestyle and outdoor use cases of more durable, workwear-type footwear. The range of performance across the Top 10 brands in outdoor/rugged footwear is quite large, suggesting lower excitement on the part of the consumer beyond the leading players.

Viewed through the gender lens, Ugg, Columbia and Arc’teryx appear in the top five brands for both men and women, while the others vary. Ariat makes its debut on both lists, at #3 in men’s and #7 in women’s, due to its reputation as quality western wear and its recent expansion into work footwear.

Ugg takes the top spot for women overall by a wide margin (27 points), particularly dominating with Gen Z (where it nearly doubles the score of second-place Arc’teryx), though Columbia slightly outpaces it among Millennials. Versatile footwear/sandals are in, with Chaco and Teva near the top of the overall list and Keen tied for third among Gen X. Rain boots are less popular, especially with Gen Z, as Hunter Boots fell down the list and Muck Boots fell off the list entirely.

Men’s outdoor footwear is dominated by rugged brands, with Timberland leading the way and Ariat, Cat and Red Wing all showing up in the Top 10. While Timberland and Columbia show strength across generations (always staying in the top three), Ugg is differentially popular among Gen Z, while Merrell and L.L.Bean are differentially popular among Gen X.

Women’s Outdoor/Rugged Footwear

Men’s Outdoor/Rugged Footwear

Dress Footwear
In dress footwear, the Top 10 brands are quite varied across genders. Steve Madden is #1 and No.2 on both lists, but no other brands repeat.

While the leaders in women’s dress footwear are fairly consistent with prior years, the competition is hot, with the top five brands separated by just 15 points. Michael Kors, Steve Madden, and Coach again take the top three spots, followed by established brands Calvin Klein and Kate Spade; style and brand appeal are king in this category, so the top players make sense. Upstart brands Schutz and Kurt Geiger make the Top 10 list for the first time this year, scoring particularly well with millennials, while Vince Camuto performs strongly with Gen X, coming in at #2, but doesn’t make the Top 10 in any other generation.

In men’s, the largest change has been the drop of industry leader Cole Haan to #4 from #1 overall, driven by decidedly poor performance with Gen Z. Meanwhile, Steve Madden and Tommy Hilfiger take over the top two spots (up from #7 and #11, respectively) due to their respective brand reputations and evolving, diverse styles. However, it’s fair to say the dress footwear category as a whole isn’t overly popular with Gen Z men, as evidenced by its material awareness of only 10 brands; this is likely a result of the casualization trend, which predominates among younger generations
and was amplified by the shift to work-from-home.

Women’s Dress Footwear

Men’s Dress Footwear

“There can be material variations in how different generations and genders perceive any brand. It’s critical for brands to understand where these differences lie to develop the strategies required to maximize strengths and address weaknesses,” said Chris Randall, L.E.K. managing director and survey report co-author.

For the full sets of footwear and apparel brand rankings by generation, gender and product category, including athletic, casual, dress, and outdoor/rugged. See the 2024 U.S. Footwear and Apparel Brand Heat Index here.

Image courtesy Hoka, data and charts courtesy L.E.K. Consulting