The Future of Footwear

Sneaker silhouettes continue to get more daring. Look at any adidas NMD or the EQT ADV and you’ll find the ultra-aggressive triangle shape. We are also seeing innovative interpretations of iconic styles we have never really had before. Whether they are beautifully implemented winter hybrid sneakers such as the Nike Air Max 95 Sneakerboot, sandal versions of shoes a la Reebok Instapump Fury Sandal, or conventional styles translated to one-piece uppers such as New Balance using their deconstructed series.

With enormous attention placed on collaborations with celebrities, we are seeing more trend-savvy girls flocking to shoes than ever before. And because of this celeb co-sign, sneaker heads which were perhaps somewhat “safer” with their shoe options have the ability to put on a little riskier footwear – like fluffy shoes– which is brilliant for footwear designers, because there’s nothing worse than stagnancy.

Taking a look at the adidas vs. Nike competition, we are seeing a gap in which vaguer mid-level indie manufacturers have a chance to squeeze in and prosper in their own right. The web is also playing a massive part allowing smaller brands to stay relevant and sustain themselves. Having the ability to sell directly to customers allows brands to maintain their margins fairly low, instead of stores taking a huge chunk; this in turn, them to reinvest in themselves. This fact is restructuring the manner in which the footwear market has served for decades.

Smaller brands have the ability to manoeuvre more freely than their bigger counterparts generally, which enables them to question and control certain aspects of the business. Some are foregoing tradeshows — why do they want it when they could sell direct to customer online? Others, like FEIT, are not offering footwear on a classic seasonal basis, but only releasing products as it best suits both the customer and brand.

As well as this, more advanced construction methods are enabling smaller manufacturers to create more interesting and advanced men and women’s sneakers. In an era where technology such as 3D printing is realistically just a few short years from potentially being a commercially viable alternative in the footwear business, we are on the cusp of an entire revolution not just with how shoes are made and designed, but also the way the customer buys and interacts with brands. Hyper-localised manufacturing and higher levels of individualised adaptation will shortly become a reality.

Nike continues to innovate, although this last year has been relatively quiet compared to lofty standards of yesteryear. Besides getting extremely popular over the last couple of seasons, adidas has done an excellent job pushing collabs and trickling down Y3 for their Original styles. They have also pushed innovation to new levels, the FutureCraft series being among many brilliant examples.

Whether it’s their job with the super advanced London-based product design service, Alexander Taylor Studio, or their hyper-local, fully automated Speed Factory concept, adidas is pushing better innovation and sustainability in more exciting ways than some of the other larger brands in the game at this time.

Innovation and sustainability have not been so closely connected as they have in the last couple seasons. The latter proved to be a dirty word for quite a long time and sustainable shoes generally associated with hippy eco-warriors wearing nasty dad sandals. But as larger and more aesthetically-driven manufacturers pay additional attention to blending sustainability with invention, such as the adidas x Parley Ultraboost, we will begin to see a change to an anticipation of well-made, aesthetically-pleasing, sustainably-produced footwear.

It is really the little to mid-level independent brands that will shape the future, directing sneakerheads to venture out their specified brand allegiances. Brandblack is implementing slick on-court and off-court shoes and apparel unlike any indie brand ever. There is Clear Weather, Casbia or EKN, all bringing out magnificent casual shoes. Filling Pieces continues to control that side of the market. Cole Haan, using their invention lab out in New Hampshire and the current launch of some great product, is also a brand to keep your eye on.

Functionality will naturally continue to be a massive part of performance shoes, though we will begin to see a change in how it’s produced because of technologies opening up different development paths. Close-to-the-body, low-to-the-ground shoes that correct body posture and foot contour will continue to flourish, discovering new ways to accommodate each customer’s individual needs. Once more, 3D printed components will allow for greater unique performance, offering solutions to issues faced by regular athletes.

Science will evolve material, allowing for a more harmonious pairing of technology and organic materials. This in turn will allow footwear not just to be highly functional, but imagine: it may also ensure great products that can return to our bodies through vitamin- or bacterial-enriched materials, moving into our bodies through our toes.