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Imelda Marcos, Mariah Carey, and Tamara Mellon – they all have footwear collections to die for. However, now it seems the nation’s men are stepping up, as latest research from Mintel on footwear retailing reveals that 95% of British males aged 16-24 bought shoes last year, making them Britain’s number one footwear buyers.

While women (86%) are still more likely to purchase footwear than men (78%), it seems that young men are giving women a run for their money. Indeed, according to Mintel research, females aged 16-24 (10%) are twice as likely to have not purchased footwear in the last year compared to their male counterparts (5%), as the continuation of the casual and athleisure trends drive men’s footwear sales.

Stepping in the right direction, men’s footwear accounted for 37% of all footwear sales in 2017, up from 34% in 2015. While women’s footwear accounted for the greatest market share, sector sales have slipped from a 50% share in 2015 to 46% in 2017.

Valued at £4.38 billion in 2017, sales of men’s shoes increased an impressive 31% between 2015 and 2017. Meanwhile, sales of women’s shoes grew by 10% over the same period to reach £5.48 billion in 2017.

Chana Baram, Retail Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Men’s footwear, particularly among younger age groups, is really fuelling growth in the footwear sector. In fact, our research shows that men aged 16-24 are more likely to be swayed by big brand names than women of the same age. With trainers such a popular category for men as a whole, young men in particular are likely to respond positively to advertising campaigns by the big sports brands that feature their favourite male sports personalities.”

Casual footwear is a runaway success

Casual shoes and trainers are now the most popular shoe styles purchased by men, women and children. While there was once stigma attached to children wearing trainers, today, they are the most purchased style of footwear for children (56%) proving more popular than even school shoes (48%).

Meanwhile, the popularity of heeled shoes has gone flat: around one in five (22%) women purchased heels in 2018, down from 29% in 2017. In direct correlation, other more casual shoes have also increased in popularity, with flat sandals (22%) now as popular as heeled shoes. And while the debate as to whether or not flip flops are acceptable male footwear seems to resurface every summer, Mintel research reveals that last year 10% of men purchased a pair, peaking at 20% among those aged 16-24.

“A more relaxed atmosphere has helped boost the popularity of casual footwear, including trainers for men, women and children. But the casualisation trend does not stop at trainers as this year’s hot weather has seen many Brits reaching for their flip flops. This has fed into the long-running debate about the social acceptability of men wearing open-toed shoes, subjecting members of the public to their potentially non-pedicured feet. With celebrities such as David Beckham and Justin Bieber photographed wearing flip flops for everyday use, men’s fondness for open-toed footwear is unlikely to wane. Seizing on this, many brand favourites have released comfortable slides for wearing both on and off the beach.” Chana notes.

Strong interest in vegan footwear as Brits step out with a conscience

Proving that veganism goes far beyond the food on our plate, today’s Brits are putting their heart and ‘sole’ into their choice of shoes as Mintel research reveals that concern for animal welfare trend has trickled down to the footwear sector. Over a fifth (22%) of footwear buyers like the idea of vegan (non-leather) footwear and this figure rises to a third (32%) of consumers aged 16-34. Overall, one in 10 (10%) footwear purchasers look for shoes made from eco-friendly materials when shoe shopping.

“Several trends are coming through in footwear, with many brands concentrating on appealing to a younger market through eco trends. We’ve seen vegan versions of popular trainers, and even big-name footwear companies developing vegan collections as an alternative to leather versions of classic styles.” Adds Chana.

Big shoes to fill: Brits demand wider range of sizes

As the nation’s feet continue to increase in size*, almost half (46%) of Brits agree it is important for retailers to stock a wide range of sizes; this rises to (57%) of shoppers aged 55 and over.

Meanwhile, gender-neutral footwear appeals to 29% of shoppers overall, especially mums in urban areas. Half (50%) of women living in a larger town or city, with a child aged 18 or under, say gender-neutral shoes are of interest to them.

Finally, it seems that consumers’ love of all things retro is extending to footwear as four in ten (40%) Brits say they would be interested in buying re-released iconic footwear. The concept is most popular with male (59%) and female shoppers (56%) aged 16-34; for shoppers aged 55 and over, just 13% express interest in iconic shoes.

“Our research highlights a strong interest in retro brands as many Brits hark back to shoes from the past. In a world of increasing uncertainty, consumers are craving things from a more reassuring time and brands are now playing on this sensibility by re-releasing classic styles. The fact that so many consumers get excited about discovering/re-discovering the past, and its products, means that the history of consumerism is essentially a goldmine waiting to be explored.” Concludes Chana.

* In 1970, men’s feet were on average size eight and women had size four feet, by 2014 the average male wore a size 10 and the average female wore a size six. Source: the College of Podiatry 2014