Every few years, consumers like to get geeked out on certain hard-core looks, and right now, the trail runner look is in. Sure, more people are actually running off-road these days, but the trail runner has become the new sneaker for the broader consumer base. That's just one of the many trends we saw from footwear companies at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. In these tough economic times, the buzzword "value" continues to dominate sales pitches in the footwear realm. General health and wellness are topics of concern, as there are lots of shoes designed to help feet recuperate from a long day. We also saw women's casual shoes take a step forward, and, as you might expect, there are still "green" stories to be told.
Trail runners take next step
As trail runners attract a broader range of consumers, manufacturers are filling out their lines to address all types of people, from hard-core athletes to road runners making the transition to the trail and even everyday Joes who just want that trail running look. Kayland recently began to make a name for itself in the trail running realm with the Dragon Fly. For 2010, the new Crosser (MSRP $99-$120) has the Dragon Fly last, but the shoe doesn't appear as extreme to attract a wider audience. www.kayland.com
Scarpa is introducing a whopping 35 new SKUs for 2010, probably the most we saw from any footwear company. This includes new trail runners that have more cushioning than its previous models, and the goal is to simply offer consumers more choices, the company told us. Both the Pursuit and Pursuit GTX (MSRP $100 and $125) have a slightly more advanced midsole than their elder cousin, the Raptor, including a triple-density midsole, as opposed to a dual-density midsole. www.scarpa.com
The folks at Asolo think that the company is finally prepared to succeed in the trail running market after many attempts. More resources have been devoted to the line, which includes something for everyone, from the more technical Dominator (photo to the right; MSRP $120) to the less advanced Predator (MSRP $110) for the more casual user. www.asolo.com
A few of the trail runners we saw have elements designed to appeal to road runners, or at least allow a person to run a mile or two on roads as they head to the trail. Montrail's Rockridge (MSRP $90) is built for the trail, but has a midsole with ample cushioning to handle a bit of road work. www.montrail.comSalomon's new XT Wings trail runner (MSRP $130-$160) has a similar story, as it's designed for trail work but has the soft ride you'd expect for the road. www.salomonsports.com
Vasque's Transistor (MSRP $100) is marketed as a trail runner for a wide variety of people and can take a person from the road to the trail. The real funky thing about this shoe is that it's made with no midsole, and follows the less-is-more trend in footwear, placing the foot as close to the ground as possible. www.vasque.com
Several new trail runners have outsoles designed for harsher terrain. Garmont is launching four trail runners for 2010, including the Escape DL (MSRP $100), which has deep lugs on the outsole, making it ideal for loose dirt, grass and mud, rather than hard-packed trails. www.garmont.com
Merrell's CTR Cruise (MSRP $110, Gore-Tex version $120) has a beefed up sole to tackle loose stone, as well as extra armoring at the toe and heel areas. www.merrell.com
LaFuma developed an improved type of mesh for its new Moonrace trail runner (MSRP $139) that should better block out debris than its previous mesh, but still allow plenty of air flow. www.lafumausa.com
Oboz has also launched a trail runner with deeper lugs for messier terrain. The Dash (MSRP $100) is arch-lasted, meaning the upper portion of the shoe meets the midsole farther up under the arch than usual, which improves support on the medial side of the foot. www.obozfootwear.com
Looking for a good value
There is no doubt that we are living in punishing economic times, and in the footwear market, this is reflected by a consumer focus on value. In the outdoor specialty arena, "value" does not carry a connotation of "cheap." For spring/summer 2010, vendors and retailers that have spoken with the SNEWS team concur that consumers will be more apt to buy an expensive item if it is made well and can serve multiple functions.
"Consumers are not into disposable product -- they want quality," said Brandan Hill, director of product development at Chaco. "Retailers are also taking advantage of the search for quality."
For example, if a light hiking shoe can pass muster on the trail and is also fashionable enough to wear around town, the consumer will likely appreciate this versatility and will be less likely to balk at a higher price point. The buzz words here are "multi-purpose," "crossover" and "hybrid."
According to Peter Sachs, general manager of Lowa Boots in the U.S., multi-function is the company's strongest category, and it's taking market share from backpacking product. He added that mid-cut and quarter-cut heights are also making a comeback because they offer consumers greater versatility.
Naturally, many vendors -- in the footwear realm and beyond -- are intent on delivering value-packed product. For instance, Timberland's Run Off model (MSRP $90), part of the Mountain Athletics line, is designed to be an amphibious running shoe that offers consumers a "surf 'n' turf" option. www.timberland.com
At Keen, a company especially focused on "The Hybrid Life," crossover footwear abounds. For the commuter/urban cycling market, an expanded collection of SPD-compatible models work both on and off the bike. www.keenfootwear.com
In another related development in women's footwear, some vendors, such as Ahnu and Dansko, are attempting to further merge fashion and function by offering core performance styles with a twist. At Ahnu, this translates to breathable, water-friendly Mary Jane and ballet flat designs that have been updated with a fashion-forward higher wedge heel that is appropriate for wear with skirts and dresses -- the formal side of outdoor lifestyle? www.ahnufootwear.com
In a similar vein, Dansko has updated its iconic clog silhouette with feminine touches including embroidery, textured upper materials, sleeker outsole platforms, and more open, strappy designs. www.dansko.com
"People are willing to try new, fresh things, but they are also more practical in their needs. They want performance benefits as well as multi-use and multiple wearing occasions," concluded Martin Keen, outdoor/performance design manager at Earth Footwear.
Something to go with your skirt
If you were paying any attention to women's apparel at the show, you probably noticed that it was all about dresses this year. Word in the aisles was that retailers are realizing that it's smart business to broaden their offerings of casual women's clothing, and footwear makers are launching lines that can serve this trend.
Patagonia Footwear introduced its Elegance collection, which, to our eyes, strikes a good balance of being more graceful than what you typically see on outdoor shelves, yet it's not too flashy. One style we noticed grabbing lots of attention is the Bandha T-strap sandal (photo to the right; MSRP $90). www.patagonia.com
Keen has developed a broad selection of footwear that is versatile and highly functional, and is also imbued with feminine touches such as embroidery, fun colors and interesting textures -- all of which encourage multiple wearing occasions. The Whisper from last year had a narrow fit, and it proved to be really popular. So, for 2010, the Whisper collection will also include a slide (MSRP $75), Mary Jane and other styles. www.keenfootwear.com
As we've seen in previous years, women's sandals and casual shoes are continually being outfitted with more functional materials, without losing their good looks. Hi-Tec introduced the V-Lite Sheba Thong (MSRP $35), which is made with belt leather to prevent the sandals from stretching. It also has an external shank and foot bed with Eco Cork and EVA foam. www.hi-tec.com
Focusing on foot health
As an outgrowth of the all-encompassing "green" trend, a focus on foot health and proper biomechanics is becoming more prevalent. Footwear manufacturers such as Earth Footwear, which were once viewed as "hippie-ish" and "new-agey" are getting the last laugh by offering health-conscious consumers both proven and new technologies that promise to alleviate foot pain, improve posture and balance, decrease foot and leg fatigue, and boost a sense of well-being.
In fact, Martin Keen, a footwear industry veteran and founder of Keen and Mion, recently joined Earth Footwear as outdoor/performance design manager. "Right now, I'm working on negative heel running shoes and training shoes," he reported. For spring 2010, Earth is offering a convertible aquatic sandal retail priced at $59. www.earthfootwear.com
At Ecco, the Biom running shoe line is expanding into the walking market. Biom, which launched about a year ago, is a nod to the growing "barefoot running" movement based upon natural motion. Biom running shoes feature a close-to-the-ground silhouette and are available in "A", "B" and -- new for spring 2010 -- "C" platforms to serve runners of varying abilities. The new Biom Walk offers a flatter bottom, more stability in the heel, and a low-to-the-ground profile. The goal of the technology in both lines is to help the wearer's foot move as naturally as possible. www.eccofootwear.com
Elsewhere in the market, Vibram's FiveFingers line, developed as a "barefoot alternative," has gained popularity among "barefoot" runners (as well as sailors, climbers, hikers and other athletes). The footwear combines the freedom and feel of going barefoot with the protection and grip of a shoe. Like the forefoot running contingent, barefoot running proponents believe that the technique improves performance and helps reduce injuries. For this reason, Vibram is rolling out the FiveFingers Bikila running shoe (MSRP $100). Key features include a TC-1 rubber anatomical pod outsole for traction and protection, a Dri-Lex covered 3 mm PU insole, and tear-resistant TPU toe protection. The shoe also provides a padded collar and topline, 3M reflective surfaces, a single hook-and-loop closure, and some flashy color options. The Bikila is available in gender-specific versions, and will ship to retail in February 2010. www.vibramfivefingers.com
LaSportiva's focus this year was to produce environmentally friendly hiking shoes, and products in the FC ECO series have the Vibram Eco-step compound composed of 30-percent recycled rubber content. A new Zero-Waste EVA midsole combines compression-molded and injection-molded pieces, which have a net effect of zero waste. Uppers on shoes in the series have 100-percent recycled nylon for the mesh, laces and webbing, while the shoe lining has 40-percent recycled nylon content. Check out the FC ECO 3.0 GTX (photo to the right; MSRP $160), a mid-cut boot designed for day hikes and backpacking with light to moderate loads. www.sportiva.com
To make a greener shoe, companies have altered the type of glue they use, such as the water-based adhesives used to make the New Balance 060 (MSRP $60), a new Mary Jane, which also has been constructed with as few molds as possible to reduce material waste. www.newbalance.com
Taking another approach, The North Face decided to just make a couple of glueless shoes. The Suzy Q-Zy (MSRP $80) and Suzy Q-ZY Slip-on (MSRP $85) have unique snap-and-lock TPU pieces to connect the insole to the outsole, and layers of canvas, rather than EVA, provide cushioning in the midsole. www.thenorthface.com
Timberland continues to chase the millennial demographic with its Mountain Athletics line that offers eco-friendly shoes that young people can wear for a variety of activities. You'll notice more youth-oriented colors, such as black and silver uppers on the All Mountain Inferno. www.timberland.com
Be sure to see….
Chaco's Brandan Hill said this is the year we'll finally see how the company is benefiting from its new parent, Wolverine. "We have a lot of resources to make sure we deliver on time, deliver high-quality product and stay focused," he said. It's also allowed Hill to develop some products retailers have been asking for, such as a leather version of the ZI (MSRP $100), which is made with top-quality leather from the Italian handbag industry and looks like a sure-seller. www.chacousa.com
Ex Officio has expanded its Adventure category to include a hard-core sandal, the Streamliner (MSRP $80/women's, $85/men's), which won't hold debris as did Ex Officio's previous waterborne sandal, the Reefrunner. www.exofficio.com
Sole appears to be doing a great job expanding its line of sandals with moldable soles, but it also rolled out some trick inventory-management technology. The company supplies dealers with equipment and software that tracks each pair of footwear as it's removed from the shelf and automatically arranges for the replacement of sold product. Or, the retailer can opt for a rep to be notified automatically when inventory reaches a certain level, so the rep can then contact the store. www.yoursole.com
Thru hikers might be interested in the Montrail AT-Plus (MSRP $115), a lightweight, low-cut shoe that has a horseshoe-shaped shank, medial posting and other elements to make it bear weight and support the foot more effectively than some of the shoes that long-distance hikers are using. www.montrail.com
The Oboz Contour shoe (MSRP $110) not only includes the company's new insole (which comes close to an aftermarket product), but also has 2.5 mm of EVA laminated to the top of the lasting board so feet ride on a more cushioned surface. It'll be interesting to see to what degree this relieves foot fatigue over longer hikes. www.obozfootwear.com
Kids' collections seem to be a major focus this year, with Keen greatly expanding the color options for its Sunport. Merrell redesigned its kids' line with animal-inspired designs. Its Leap N' Land shoes have cushioned midsoles and non-marking, sticky-rubber soles to be school-friendly.
Tecnica has seriously overhauled its approach to manufacturing footwear, and a new, core principle is its Tecnica Rolling System. Basically, shoes such as the multisport Viper Low (MSRP $110) and Cyclone II hiker (MSRP $135) improve the way the foot strikes the ground and rolls to eliminate a dead zone in a person's stride in which energy is not transferred. www.tecnicausa.com
Timberland has a great looking water shoe, the Rip Current (MSRP $75), which is made with recycled latex rubber and is available in orange, white, blue and black.
Teva's Tirra sandals for women (photo to the left; MSRP $70) offer a good blend of the classic Teva look, but they're available in eye-catching blue, pink, green, orange and grape colors. Plus, they're built for real action, with a nylon shank, EVA midsole, the works. www.teva.com
Now, here's a good idea -- Lowa has launched a new line of walking shoes constructed with the company's successful PU Monow rap frame, a durable midsole of soft TPU and an outsole with lugs to handle mud and slippery surfaces. Check out the Argon GTX and Argon GTX Lady (MSRP $175). www.lowaboots.com
As we went to press with a nod to the new designs from End, we got word that LaCrosse, which acquired End May of 2009 (click here to read the SNEWS story "LaCrosse Footwear saves END Outdoor through acquisition") has shut down End.
After seeing the shoes at Summer Market, we were ready to say that road runners who buy into End's less-is-more philosophy should look at the new Endvelope (photo to the right; MSRP $90), which weighs just 8.2 ounces and has an EVA-like material called ERS that supposedly doesn't flatten as easily as EVA and disperses shock very well -- we look forward to testing these new shoes and providing a detailed report soon. Also new and notable is that End is using Ion Mask waterproofing technology in more road and trail shoes. www.endfootwear.com
However, now all we can say is too bad. This is the end of End. See the latest Aug. 7, 2009, news about End Footwear -- "END Footwear design innovations to be integrated into LaCrosse and Danner products" -- by clicking here.)
--Marcus Woolf & Judy Leand
The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.