For the trailing 52 weeks through November 2015, the fashion/casual winter boot category was up 24.3 percent in units and 13.2 percent in dollars across the outdoor, sporting goods, chain and Internet channels, according to SSI Data*, helping boost the overall footwear category up 5.85 percent in units and up 5 percent in dollars.

By David Clucas and Ryan Sullivan

Warmer-than-normal weather put a dent in outdoor sales for fall and early winter 2015 at retail – largely due to a drop in outwear sales – but a curious bright spot came in footwear, specifically fashion and casual winter boots.

The uptick even continued through what was a very warm November, with monthly sales of fashion/casual winter boots up 7.5 percent in units and 3.2 percent in dollars across all channels, compared to November 2014. At specialty outdoor, in particular, the category was a big winner during the month, with fashion/casual winter boots up a whopping 43 percent in units and 47 percent in dollars.

Backing up those figures, many retailers SGB talked to at the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance show in early November and interviews conducted following the Black Friday weekend in late November, pointed to winter boots as top sellers.

Meanwhile, overall apparel sales fell 1.74 percent in units (-0.87 in dollars) for the trailing 52 weeks through November 2015, including a 5.3 percent drop in units (-5.5 in dollars) during that warm November. Outdoor equipment sales for the same 52 weeks fell 2.8 percent in units (gaining less than a percent in dollars), including a 7.7 percent decline in units (up 2 percent in dollars) for the month of November.

Bogs Cooper Chukka Boot

Bogs Cooper Chukka Boot

So what’s been so special about fashion/casual winter boot category preforming so well without the cold whether, unlike its apparel and equipment brethren? Retailers and analysts say the answer is two-fold, and starts earlier in 2015 on the tail end of last winter, which was unseasonably cold. That drove up demand for winter boots, including the casual/fashion category, and depleted inventories. By the end of the season, consumers had a tough time finding what they wanted.

As with many fashion trends, low supply and high demand can fuel the fire. By this early fall and winter, consumers weren’t waiting for the cold weather, they were buying winter boots.

Secondly, as the outdoor industry delves deeper into the fashion world, it’s finding stylish seasonal product slightly less dependent on the outdoor thermometer, as consumers want to dress in a winter style, even if the cold and snowy weather isn’t quite there. Indeed, while fashion/casual winter boots rose 7.5 percent in units (3.2 percent in dollars) through that warm November, technical winter pac boot sales, which follow the actual weather more closely, fell 11 percent in units (6.1 percent in dollars), across all channels, according to SSI Data* . The story at specialty outdoor, however, is a little more encouraging, with perhaps a more core shopper opting to hit those fashion notes with technical winter boots – sales of which rose 36 percent in units and 27 percent in dollars for November 2015.

What brands are benefiting from the surge? At specialty outdoor, SSI Data shows Sorel, Ugg, Bogs and Timberland taking the most market share in the fashion/casual winter boot category with The North Face, Merrell and Keen winning on the technical side. Across all channels, Timberland, Sorel, Ugg and Bearpaw are the market share winners in the fashion/casual winter boots.

Keen Aphlex Mid

Keen Aphlex Mid

There is a flip-side to this coin, however. Fashion is fickle. And while winter boots are hot and in style now, the trends from Madison Avenue can shift a lot faster than what retailers are used to when dealing with core outdoor product.

Finally, if the winter weather stays warm throughout the entire 2015-16 season, it may push the needle to win over any fashion trend.

*SSI Data, powered by SportsOneSource, is the industry leader in actionable weekly sales trend reporting for the active lifestyle market.  To learn more call 303.997.7302

Photo (Lead) courtesy Merrell