Home Fashion Innovation, technology help Indian sports footwear market step into the future

Innovation, technology help Indian sports footwear market step into the future


The world around us is rapidly evolving. Millennials are leading busy lives, with different priorities and expectations than previous generations. One priority in their life is fitness. The pursuit of wellness has become a daily activity for them. This transformed lifestyle has been complemented with access to gyms and neighbourhood parks, further pushing an increased number of people to take up activities like running and cross fit.

Aside from this, the presence of influencers—including celebrities, sportspersons and fashion bloggers— has furthered the fitness movement. This has led to the evolution of the fashion sector in India and the world, with the apparel retail segment leaning towards athleisure and comfort clothing. Accessories too are transforming to better serve the needs of exercise-conscious consumers, especially the footwear industry.

“Driven by the country’s growing wealth, changing lifestyles and rising urbanisation, an increasing number of Indian consumers are becoming more health conscious and are adding new health and wellness routines to their hectic lifestyles as a result. This growing awareness of being fit, healthy and the need to exercise has been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of athletic sportswear in recent past,” says Rahul Vira, CEO, Skechers South Asia.

According to Sanjay Roy, Executive Director – Sales & Operations, Puma India, as India’s demography is getting younger there is a growing interest in fitness and overall orientation around healthy living. “Apart from this, women consumers too are evolving, participating in various fitness activities like Calisthenics, Pilates, Zumba, etc., leading to evolution of the fashion retail industry including footwear.”

“Be it men’s category or women’s, footwear has now become a necessary style statement for everyone,” states Lokesh Mishra, Chief Operating Officer, Seven by MS Dhoni.

As per Vira, athletic footwear is one segment which has benefitted the most from the growing health consciousness of consumers. “One cannot take part in athletic activities without proper footwear and this has pulled up the revenue of athletic footwear companies greatly,” he explains.

Skecher’s has already tagged India as one of its fastest growing international markets. The brand has been witnessing strong growth since its launch in the country—a double-digit year-on-year growth—and is now looking to further expand its base in the Indian market. Its retail network in India currently includes 247 stores and the brand plans to open a further 80 to 100 locations in the country this year, 20 of which will be company-owned and -operated.

Market Size

“India as a market is always ready to absorb, adapt and adopt changes, especially when it comes to trends and lifestyle. The footwear industry, especially retailers catering to fi tness and sports, is ever-evolving. The rising demand for trendy, technologically superior yet comfortable footwear among all age groups is a key factor driving the industry,” states Anupam Sehgal, Marketing Head, Cravatex Brands.

According to a report, the global sports footwear market size will grow by US $12.76 billion during 2018-2022. As per Mishra, the Indian footwear industry is approximately worth Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 crore and he foresees a 100 percent growth over the next 5 years. “After China, India is the second largest global producer of footwear,
consisting of 9 percent of the annual global production of 22 billion,” he says.

“The growth in Indian fashion and lifestyle market has given us a major impetus to the footwear industry. From a basic need-based industry, it has become an evolving fashion and style category. As a brand we have started bringing more exclusive and limited edition products which earlier would probably not work in India. Democratically speaking, we target all fitness enthusiasts, but it is usually the motivated youth who are our biggest growth promoters. We expect stronger pick up from the Tier II and III cities as people have more expendable income and are more aware of their options in these areas,” says Sehgal.

Roy further adds to this saying, “Tier II, III and even IV are now starting to become very crucialmarkets as Tier I is becoming saturated. Consumers in these markets are getting more health conscious and women consumers in these markets are also becoming progressive and willing to accept sportswear as part of their daily life.”

The market share of Puma is approximately 30 percent. Of this, 75 percent is men’s footwear and 25 percent is women’s. The brand expects the market to continue to grow between 10 to 15 percent year-on-year.

Product & Innovation

Athletic footwear refers to those shoes that are designed for sports and other outdoor activities. The market offers a variety of footwear with options in colour, design and price to cater to the needs and purchasing abilities of individual customers. As per Roy, as the athleisure trend continues to grow, the demand for comfortable yet ‘good looking’ footwear is only increasing. “As a result, we’re always looking to include an element of fun and easy wear in all our products, bringing to life our philosophy of ‘where the gym meets the runway’. Puma’s collection offers a broad range of colour options to on-trend styles that can easily be worn everywhere – from work to an evening out with friends. On the performance side, the brand has introduced new-age sneakers with latest technology like Hybrid and Weave XT that off er added flexibility and faster movement,” he states.

On the emerging sneaker culture, he says, “There is growing demand for sneakers whether it’s for training or casual wear. In India, we have had huge success in the sneaker market. Increasing popularity of sportswear in everyday fashion and for various occasions of use is driving our growth strongly. There is huge upswing in sneaker culture and some of our most popular products like Thunder, RS-O and RS-X have been extremely successful despite their high price points in a value-conscious market like India.”

“A decade ago, the consumer was looking for a comfortable pair of shoes. Today, consumers are looking for fashion, lifestyle and a comfortable shoe. Sneakers have become a style statement more than a necessity,” he adds.

“The country is seeing a surge in the sneakerhead subculture – people who collect, trade and admire sneakers. Sneakerheads know their subject. They associate sneakers with a piece of history or street wear,” states Sehgal.

Aside from this, the technology of the sportswear brands has improved by leaps and bounds after brands really began to compete with each other to have the best footwear with the most appealing designs.

As per Mishra, footwear and technology are interlinked to bring in new products that move beyond novelty and enhance the user’s performance. “Sports shoes have seen a number of innovations to make them optimal. And this is mainly because a lot of Millennials and Generation Xers like to wear trendy as well as functional footwear. Some latest technology advancements in the sports footwear industry include smart footwear, augmented and virtual reality imbued shoes and shoe-knitting technology,” he says.

“Our product, the GOrun 7 is the newest edition in the GOrun family which is built with the ‘Hyper Burst Cushioning’ foam – this new Hyper Burst technology process creates foam with a unique cellular structure that is more durable and buoyant than the stuff found in many running shoes, making it one of the lightest and most resilient Skechers Performance shoes and is completely different than any foam Skechers Performance has ever created,” shares Vira.

“While sports footwear is largely an unorganised sector, our rich history of innovation and design know-how has helped us build credibility and authenticity as a brand in India. Puma offers the right products for consumers who want to train hard or just look good on the street. Unlike apparel, footwear is a technical product and more so sports footwear. Credibility, innovation and technical performance is of paramount importance to the consumer. So, while other non-footwear players may enter the market and take some space in the casual footwear segment, it does not impact sportswear brands like us,” says Roy.

Whether its reintroducing iconic sneakers like the Puma Suede – which has a rich sporting heritage and is now a popular street style – to the association with Virat Kohli’s athleisure brand one8 co-created by Puma and which clocked Rs 100 crore in the first year of launch, Puma will continue to focus and invest in differentiating products that sets the brand apart from the industry.

Meanwhile, Skechers has been ramping up its presence by constantly expanding its portfolio. The shoe portfolio ranges from kids, fashion and lifestyle, sports inspired, sandals and slippers, Golf, training, walking, running and work wear shoes. Fila has just launched the ‘Explore’ and ‘FPS’ collections recently. Explore is a limited edition collection inspired by the heritage of the brand in the outdoor adventure inspired lifestyle space. It is divided further into categories, namely Canyon, Woods, Mountains and Elements. Meanwhile, FPS stands for the Fila Performance System – technical performance shoes with a fashionable edge. Some styles from the range are equipped with the BOA technology, a laceless closure system that adapts to the feet and comfort of an individual.

Then there is Seven, which caters to all of the consumer’s sporting requirements including shoes for various sports and for gym training. The brand’s latest collection consists of Seven Insanity, Unicorn, Prive, Cliff , Signac and Cricket Spike shoes. All of Seven’s product categories incorporate the industry’s latest technologies infused with style and comfort.

Target Audience

According to Mishra, previously, people used to own a single pair of shoes because they preferred wearing the same pair to office, to parties and to the gym etc., but today they need different kinds of shoes for different occasions. For instance, a fitness enthusiast would need running shoes for jogging or exercising, formal shoes for office, trendy and stylish shoes for parties and casual shoes for a casual outing. Secondly, with trends changing very fast, brands are offering varied collections for varied seasons. So, when people visit shopping centers, they see a wide variety of footwear from different brands and that induces them to buy more. Furthermore, promotional offers, discounts, etc. also contribute in making their shopping easy and increases the competition on the other hand. “We see this as a positive because it pushes us to be on our toes regularly and we are sure that our products will still receive traction because of the quality we provide at very competitive prices,” he says.

He further says, “Millennials are keen on hitting the gym, sports and fitness and since they are aware of various shoe categories, we need to cater to them accurately. We also help build this awareness by leaning on advertisements as well as on the prowess of bloggers who send information out to the public. We believe that building visibility and reaching out to the consumer is very important and we do that by holding previews of our collections by inviting lifestyle and sports bloggers to visit our warehouses and experience first hand the products we create. Such interactions then reach the consumer through the reviews that the bloggers put up and help in building a brand connect.”

Earlier consumers were brand loyal but with the rise of aggressive competition and information they have a wide array of choices. Indian consumers have started looking at sportswear in a more research driven manner.

“There are various touch points for bring out a brand’s communication to position a particular product as per its segment. Right from the store window display, in-store communication to digital assets and on-ground activation, the communication is customised as per the customer’s need and understanding of a specific product,” states Vira.

The Road Ahead

“The future of the Indian athletic footwear market is very bright. The Indian footwear industry is gearing up and we have strong resources available in the form of materials and skilled labour and this will only grow going ahead. Also, the increasing significance of footwear is leading to technological advancements in the segment and pushing growth prospects of the industry, especially in Tier II and III cities as people are becoming more brand centric and are also open to giving an edge to the more economic brands as well as home-grown brands,” says Mishra.

“The Indian consumption of athletic footwear is relatively very small compared to other developed countries. With disposable income growing, population getting younger, demography moving towards urbanisation and fitness, we expect the market to have an exponential growth in the next couple of years and catch up to the consumption levels in the West,” adds Roy.

“Overall, the industry is poised to grow, and India will be a key market as the awareness for sports and fitness is on the rise and people are keen to follow a healthy lifestyle,” Mishra concludes.

(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)