Footwear at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market saw several trends crossing the show floor. Trail Running remains a hot category with more vendors making a presence felt here, both from the traditional outdoor companies and from the traditional running guys.


Sticky rubber continues to make its way out from its birthplace with climbing shoes and into the market in general. The green movement continues to be a major story on the showfloor, now expanding beyond just products and into processes and supporting materials, from packaging to production. Women’s-specific has moved on from simply adding a women’s last to a men’s model to generating product for a woman from the ground-up, all the while keeping in mind the one overriding factor for all footwear on the floor: comfort.


Technical running brands-including New Balance, Asics, Brooks and Saucony-are making deeper inroads into the performance trail running and outdoor lifestyle footwear markets. On the performance side, consumers already know and trust these core running brands and are now eager to purchase product that is designed to handle tough terrain and weather conditions, while still accommodating specific running styles. While multi-sport trail shoes are certainly versatile and can sometimes be adequate for occasional or shorter runs, only a true trail running shoe offers all of the performance benefits that devoted trail runners demand-or so the thinking goes. In terms of outdoor lifestyle footwear, running footwear vendors are well aware of growing consumer demand for outdoor-inspired casual products. The outdoor market offers running footwear manufacturers another avenue of distribution.


The use of sticky climbing rubber in outdoor casual and sport/lifestyle footwear continues to gain traction. This trend is mostly being driven by younger consumers who have an affinity for both the action sports and outdoor lifestyles, which are combining to form an “urban outdoor” category. Nascent sports such as parkour and pursuits such as downhill mountain biking are providing fashion and performance cues.


Timberland’s b-Life Collective initiative and Five Ten’s Impact line are two examples of this trend. As a side note, vulcanized looks, long popular in the action sports and mainstream fashion realms, play well here.


Think eco-conscious materials, manufacturing processes and packaging. And think money. More companies than ever are clamoring to meet growing consumer demand for earth-friendly footwear (as well as a plethora of other products), thus proving that doing good and doing well are no longer mutually exclusive.

By now, the integration of women’s-specific lasting and technology in performance and casual products is a given. Now, designers are focusing on creating women’s products from the ground up, not merely offering takedowns of men’s footwear with a women’s-specific fit. 

With the plethora of technologies now in the marketplace, there is no reason-or excuse-for a company to churn out ill-fitting, heavy-as-lead, blister-inducing, toe-pinching footwear. Certainly, each category demands that specific comfort and performance parameters be upheld, and it is obvious that footwear makers are succeeding at a high level.


At Brooks Sports, the big news is BioMoGo, an eco-friendly, non-toxic, natural additive that is incorporated into the company’s original MoGo midsole to speed up the rate of biodegradation. According to the company, traditional EVA midsoles can last up to 1,000 years in a landfill. BioMoGo can break down 50 times faster, biodegrading materials into reusable byproducts in about 20 years. By 2028, Brooks expects to save 29.9 million pounds of landfill waste through the application of     BioMoGo alone. BioMoGo, which does not sacrifice durability or performance, will first be offered in the Trance 8 shoe slated to hit retail July 1. All Brooks performance running shoes featuring MoGo will inherit BioMoGo by the end of 2009. Moreover, the technology will be treated as an “open source” innovation and will be shared with other footwear brands and industries.

Hi-Tec introduced two technologies at the show: ion-mask waterproofing and InsuLite lightweight insulation. In the case of ion-mask-a patented plasma-based application originally developed for military clothing to repel chemicals-Hi-Tec joined forces with the technology’s developer, P2i. This surface enhancement permanently alters the surface of a product at the molecular level to repel water and other liquids, forcing them to bead and run off.

Unlike a waterproof/breathable membrane construction, a shoe treated with ion-mask will not gain weight when wet since the material will no longer retain water. Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Altitude Ultra is the first footwear model ever to feature ion-mask technology. The company’s second innovation, InsuLite, is a proprietary blown-EVA shell technology that is lighter and warmer than rubber and is also a better insulator. It will be available in the men’s Eiger and women’s Gemini models.

At Vasque, hiking remains the top category (with the Breeze boot being the top-seller), and women’s products now account for 40% of the company’s business. The light-and-fast category, which encompasses trail running and multi-sport product, is growing rapidly, and a higher-end kids’ line was launched in Fall ’07. Vasque is also rolling out a new cushioning system called VST (Vasque Spine Technology, originally developed for use in Red Wing’s casual line) in trail running shoes, and will eventually expand it into multi-sport product.

Over at Merrell, the mood is upbeat-the company exceeded plan in the U.S. and globally in 2007. According to company execs, the growth was fueled by “sales of more shoes to the same folks.” Currently, women’s-specific performance footwear is the brand’s fastest-growing category.                       

At Wenger, craftsmanship and functionality have been central to the company’s revered knife line for more than 100 years. For Fall ’08, the mission has been extended to a new outdoor footwear line being produced by Novato, CA-based Established Brands, an official licensee of Wenger Licensing. The initial Alps collection, which will ship to retailers in July, consists of 10 models each for men and women. Retail prices will range from $95 to $170. Distribution is targeted to outdoor specialty stores as well as high-end department stores such as Nordstrom. For Spring ’09, the entire line will be expanded to include travel and casual collections, and models will also be added to the Alps collection.

For Fall ’08, Timberland is expanding its Sport/Utility line by improving fit and cushioning and freshening the aesthetics. The b-Life Collective will also expand with winterized models that will include waterproof technology, as well as boiled wool mixed with other materials for a young, fresh look.

Ecco continues to thrive in the lifestyle/casual arena, and the hiking and trail running lines are also growing. The company is especially enthusiastic about the trail running market, citing a broad consumer base and “huge lifestyle crossover appeal.” Winterized walking product will also be a focus for Fall ’08.