“They look like pieces of candy on the wall,” footwear and apparel coordinator Trenton Brothers said of the neon running shoes that are lining the shelves this season at Sun & Ski Sports in Austin, Tex.
With a new wave of running gear trends debuting to consumers this spring, the one fad that has stuck around for 2014 is brightly colored running shoes. Elsewhere, minimalism and barefoot trends have receded in favor of more support and protection, while quality and lightweight apparel has remained in high demand.
Credit the color craze to visibility. Runners want attention — from both a safety and coolness factor. For those running at night, or with bikes or vehicles nearby, the highlighter hues are hard to miss, and they often come trimmed with reflective fabric. They’re also just cool and in style with consumers these days.
Many top-of-the-line shoes are only available in vibrant hues this season. Mizuno’s popular Men’s Wave Riders only come in bright yellow, neon blue, white and orange, and a red, black and neon yellow combination. Saucony’s Peregrine 4, a durable trail running shoe, is only available in two neon variations. And Nike has its usual wide variety of bright colors — from kiwi green to coral pink to highlighter yellow.
On the footwear technology and construction front, consumers have spoken and retailers are pulling back with fewer barefoot and minimalist styles. Still some of the attributes of the trend are sticking around.
For us, the trend is moving back towards a more traditional style running shoe, but still very lightweight with a lower heel drop,” said Casey Spates, footwear department coordinator at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis.
Spates said that Midwest Mountaineering will continue to carry some of Merrell’s lighter weight options, but will shy away from the Vibram Fivefinger shoes, the most extreme example of the minimalism trend.
“The Vibram Fivefinger toe shoes are dying off,” he said. “We started to phase them out last year, and we don’t carry them now.”
Brothers said he has seen less demand for minimalist running shoes, too. “[Fivefingers] peaked about three years ago. They were selling like crazy,” Brothers said of the trend. “It worked for some people, but it didn’t work for others and those runners are coming back around to a more supportive shoe.”
Dan Pinper, co-manager at New York Running Company, a running shoe and apparel store at Columbus Circle in New York City, said he is hearing more consumer buzz around Hoka One One, a maximalist shoe acquired by Deckers Outdoor Corporation a year ago. The shoes have roughly 2 1/2 times the amount of cushion and volume as other running shoes, but remain relatively lightweight for their size. And Pinper is most excited about the Swiss brand On that produces a running shoe with less volume than the Hoka One Ones, but more support than many minimalist models.
“They allow for this vertical oscillation, but allow for horizontal movement," too, Pinper said. "It reduces the amount of shock that comes back up the body [when you run]. I’ve worn two or three pairs already.
As far as running apparel this year, consumers are after many of the same qualities in their clothing as they are in their shoes. Bright colors, more than ever, and lightweight materials.
“There’s this mentality [among running apparel companies] that’s like ‘how light can we make this?’ and have it still be solid product,” Pinper said of trends in clothing this year.
Brothers said that he’s noticed that many of the fabrics this season are of better quality than he’s seen in the past, particularly in wicking moisture. Sun & Ski Sports is carrying a lot of Asics and Saucony clothing, many of which are polyester based and employ moisture-moving mesh in strategic areas to deal with sweat and chafing.
Overall, retailers said they’re successfully finding a variety of situation-specific running footwear and apparel to fill the needs of their customers.
“Certain brands have their specialties,” Spates said. “As long as you’re open, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
-- Isabelle Chapman