Since 15-20 years, the trend for the classic quality shoe market has been steadily on the rise, and in the last few years factories have been on at full throttle, lots of new brands have appeared on the market, and the number of stores selling this type of shoes are more than for many decades. However, a lot is pointing towards the fact that tougher times await the industry.
I have written many times about how the peak of the quality shoe industry occurred around the turn of the last century and during the first half of the 1900s. The craftsmanship were at a very high level, the factories were well-trimmed with great resources and ambitions, the material was top class. For many reasons, it is likely that we will never experience a shoe trade at that level again. But as I said, the last two decades has been a renaissance for the industry. A symbiosis of wider interest in classic style, craftsmanship and traditional construction methods, focus on quality, and an internet and later social media that made it possible to spread both inspiration and sales across the world in a very easy way.
It’s really a great time to be interested in classic shoes. In a small country like Sweden (where I’m based) we still have a very wide range of brands today, also outside the largest cities in many cases, good online stores, and we have several Swedish brands. But – now there are a lot of indications that other times are drawing closer. I have talked to many in the industry from various countries, and from different types of businesses, and the overall feeling is that, although not everyone has started to notice the tougher times yet, they are believed to be incoming.
The main reason for it is increased competition. Of course, many have noticed that the interest in classic shoes has been great and seen an opportunity to start a brand, a physical store or an online store, plus of course that the more interested in something the more people want to work with it too. The stage we seem to be in now is that the number of brands and retailers are growing faster than the number of customers. One can’t say that the market is saturated, but there is hard competition.
One can take the supply of bespoke shoes in Hong Kong as an example. Even though it is one of the world’s strongest markets, it is tough fight for customers when, in addition to those who already are based here, several bespoke makers come to the town for trunk shows every month, as is the case today. The most competitive situation is among online retailers, although they also have the potential to reach the most customers.
This situation now also coincides with the fact that the glowing boom we’ve been in is about to decline. Interest rates rise (albeit from very low levels), the uncertainty in the economic markets is growing, spreading out into the population. The fact that we are globally heading into a recession seems to be more or less a fact, discussion is more about how low the dip will be. Signs like the fact that last winter have been tough for a lot of retailers of fine shoes around the world can also be seen as a warning signal. We also do not know if the relatively wide boom that we have seen for “menswear” overall will last, it is likely that at least among the broader layers one will move on to something new, as it usually works in the fashion world, even If it’s likely that a significantly larger crowd will stay around than it was 20 years ago.
For shoemakers and retailers, there are probably a few years of struggle with each other awaiting, where several will fall along the way. Those with the best offer will manage through this, and potentially come out stronger on the other side. It’s not necessarily a major crisis for the industry we are talking about, but the steady growth we’ve seen in recent times looks like it’s declining, in exchange of a slightly more low-key market situation.
For us customers, however, it is harvest time. The offerings is large basically for all price ranges and types of classic shoes. We will see quite substantial sales offerings from several of those who struggle. And we can count on getting good value for money, when pricing will be one of the variables that brands and dealers will compete with.