Shoes -- even outdoor or technical ones -- can make some girls' hearts sing, and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market had a few styles specifically for women that will end up on some must-have lists. These days, companies are emphasizing quality casual with head-turning looks.
Birkenstock -- Over its 30-year history, many of Birkenstock's customers have come in as granola-eating hippy types but left the brand for more urban asphalt pastures. In an attempt to draw former Birkie wearers back into the fold, the company has created the Architect Collection from Footprints with the goal of clean lines melded with function created by industrial designer Yves Behar. Birkenstock discovered Behar's work at the Modern Museum of Art in San Francisco and commissioned him to design the line. Made of German leather, the 10 styles for women retain the company's classic cork footbed. But with a name designer comes some pretty artful prices -- $230 to $240 retail.
Columbia Sportswear/Sorel -- After seven years, Columbia's women's Bugaboo boot is getting a facelift. The updated version has new tooling and tread, an injection-molded shell, speed laces and a toned-down logo. The brushed leather boot is available in five colors from gray to baby blue. Under the Sorel brand, the company is bringing back the women's Laurentian all-leather line for multi-purpose, cold-weather uses. Also, new for Sorel is a women's and kids' rubber shoe and boot category. A company spokesperson said they saw a need and market for the rubber category and feel they can put a new spin on an old concept.
Crocs -- Crammed into a last-minute 10-x-10 booth in the climbing section of Winter Market, Crocs' slip-on clogs were showing up on feet all around the booth as curiosity-seekers were switching into its shoes during product talks. Similar in look to garden clogs, Crocs are made of a PCCR polymer resin, which makes them slip-resistant, lightweight (4 ounces), non-marking and resistant to bacteria and odor. The air ventilation ports are designed to keep feet cool, and the outsole shouldn't pick up rocks, we were told. The company tells us the product has done well in the boating and surf markets -- for $29.99 retail, we'd expect that -- and it of course hopes the outdoor market will think they would come in handy on paddle, backpack and fishing trips.
Lowa -- Lowa has three new women's snow boots -- the snowboard-inspired Dasher GTX and the Comet GTX, and the outdoor-inspired Trident GTX. All three are designed for active winter activities like snowshoeing and hiking. Made with synthetic nubuck leather and Cordura uppers, the boots feature a new dual-density "Snowgrip" sole. The lightweight PU midsole is combined with a thermoplastic polyurethane outsole that has an aggressive tread pattern for maximum traction on snow and ice. A Gore-Tex fleece lining provides warmth and waterproofness, and the "one-pull" lacing system seems as if it would be easy to use while wearing gloves.
Merrell -- With its increasing push into casual and women's styles, the company is focused on a younger consumer and its designers have been in overdrive creating new styles and lines. The new Tetra collection not only tries to play to more youthful lines, but also still includes performance features in slides, loafers, Mary Janes and boots. One notable was the leather Tetra Peak Lace, the first tall lace up boot for the company that has an anatomical footbed -- anti-bacterial, too, to play along with everyone else adding that feature. In the Wave Collection was the Ewetopia Moc, which has a fluffy wool "Chia-pet" look -- a textile trend popping up in shoe, sock and apparel lines at the show.
Montrail -- With the big splash on its much-bally-hoed Ice 9 climbing boot/crampon system, Montrail had a few other new offerings on the table. The Bivouac camp bootie isn't much to look at, but it packs a lot of features. It's a two-piece bootie with an outer waterproof flexible shell that has a traction outsole and reflective markings -- pretty convenient if you want to find it in a dark tent with a flashlight. The inner bootie is lined with Primaloft and comes in sizes XS to XL. For the Susitna XCR trail runner, Montrail has teamed up with W.L. Gore to try out a new concept in footwear -- putting the laminate shell on the outside of the shoe. The inner shoe is like a long underwear layer that's highly breathable, while the outer is the waterproof "jacket" protecting the foot. To complete the package, the Susitna comes with a snug designed-for-it gaiter, which can snap and clip on neatly to the shoe, as needed by the wearer. It looks like a great package for $125.
Sperry Top-Sider -- Sperry is drawing on its 68 years of experience in the boating world and hoping to transfer it to other water sports like kayaking and canoeing with its new high-performance Figawi Collection. Heavy on styles for men, the line does boast a women's low version called the Figawi Zipper. Its Quadro Grip Super-Tack rubber outsole is based on the classic outsoles in Top-Siders and the company claims it has 20 percent more traction on wet surfaces. The Figawis are made of waterproof leather, low water absorption mesh Dri-Lex lining that should transport water away from the foot, and an antimicrobial-treated (what else?) insole mesh to resist odor. The company seems to have paid a lot of attention to detail, including molded rubber pull-tabs with textured dots that allow for easier grab-and-pull-on. On the horizon for women: a duck shoe and bootie.
Teva -- The company known for its sports sandals has tried in the past few years to make a foray into other areas â€¦ with varying degrees of success. Now, it's making a push into casual after-sport styles. Its Nomadic line has predominantly leather styles with a few other textiles, like corduroy, thrown in for a interesting touch. Among them: the Natanes clog, which has a worn-leather look with two subtle lines of stitching along the top that had women show attendees turning heads to get a second look.
World Blend -- The bent of World Blend is to combine comfort, style and price into its shoes. The leather line uses anatomical European footbeds in its slides, loafers, Mary Janes and lace-ups. One style that caught our eye was the rounded-toe Javel, a Mary Jane with Velcro closure and a circular design pattern on the strap. Making its third OR show appearance, a company rep said it's been well-received in outdoor specialty stores. Despite the eye-catching styles, we haven't heard much about this company and would be curious to see how it'll ultimately do in the industry.