The fact that these are unprecedented times for the fashion industry and society at large is already a cliche.
Having said that, the footwear and accessories sectors are still displaying cautious optimism, expecting the speed and scale of vaccinations to shape the path of recovery. The bright side is that the Indian economy has the elasticity and the fundamentals to bounce back from economic setbacks and unleash itself from pre-existing structural interruptions.
With regards to to leather fashion products market, we’ve had cheaper Chinese products flooding the Indian market over the past. However, over the past year, the pandemic — coupled with high import duties — have restricted incoming products to a significant extent. Due to lockdowns and the WFH (work from home) culture kicking in, consumption patterns have registered a downward spiral and there has been clearly a slump in demand — arising from both retail and consumer fronts.
As a result of the extreme challenges on toplines, in the short run, the brands will be push out their inventories at deep discounts. Moving ahead, however, leather product brands will need to up their game on omnichannel retail, social engagement, and innovations such as conversational commerce.
FY22: Trends to Prep for
Consumers today demand functionality, performance clubbed with versatility, comfort, and sustainability in every product. Footwear and bags are no different. Global brands are embracing social and eco-consciousness in their advanced sustainable footwear manufacturing. Recycling is anticipated to remain the operative word in the leather industry.
As we have all observed in the food business, consumers are moving aggressively towards organic products, and away from from commercial, assembly-line items. I expect a similar movement in the leather footwear and accessories category. Although it must be noted that sustainable products usually contain raw materials that are more expensive than the raw materials used in the production of standard footwear, putting pressure on production costs.
There is no simple answer to definite trends or directions, as the powers affecting the sector and retail are extremely complex and impact various sectors, companies, markets, and products differently. Considering the Covid-19 disruption, it is unclear what the new normal will be.
Surely, most retail sales would be done online. It would be extremely expensive to run a traditional brick-and-mortar store. Many brands would turn them into “experiential zones”, as Nike, adidas or Apple have done. I expect digital devices to replace sales and store staff, to a measurable extent.
Today, consumers can classify days into two categories — the day they get a home delivery package and the day they don’t. The biggest retail trend that I am observing is ‘Same-Day Delivery’. Customers’ expectations on shipping times are only rising higher. In the age of instant gratification, shoppers want their orders now.
Social Commerce would be the strongest innovation and a game changer for the industry. This year’s surge in online shopping is here to stay, especially given the difficulties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and particularly the sporadic closure of brick-and-mortar stores. Social commerce is on the rise as it offers shoppers an even more faultless way to shop online. Instead of clicking through to a third-party website, users can make purchases right from the social media app or site.
In 2021, we’ll continue to see marketplaces and traditional retailers converge. Marketplaces such as Amazon are moving to forms of traditional retail, and traditional retailers of the likes of Metro Shoes, Venus Steps, etc. are making the move to marketplaces to stay relevant in the digital economy.
Second, on the product side, the on-the-go lifestyle among millennials has been pushing manufacturers to upturn their scale of production, especially in the sneaker category. In the coming seasons and year, comfort would remain a driving factor so leather mules, platform sliders, slip-ons with high street iterations, comfortable uppers, platform wedges would spark a category trend.
Coming to major design influences, many bags — and shoes as well — would be in fabric and print versions. I also see block soles with square toed shoes becoming more popular.
The author is Editor & Publisher, Shoes & Accessories.