What Is the Future of Footwear?

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Our current issue of SNEAKERS is the FUTURE ISSUE – and we look into the crystal ball of what’s next in footwear in a feature article. “A Silent Revolution” is going on, and Daniel Bailey predicts that a comeback of indie brands, sustainable production and 3D printing could be the pillars of our future. In this article, we’re looking at some of the major trends of our time with a special focus on the small brands that – in our opinion – are becoming more and more important.

Sneaker silhouettes continue to get more daring. Look at any adidas NMD or the EQT ADV and you’ll virtually see the ultra-aggressive triangle last shape. We’re also seeing innovative interpretations of iconic styles we’ve never really had before. Whether they’re beautifully executed winter hybrid Sneaker Boots like the Nike Air Max 95 Sneakerboot, sandal versions of sneakers a la Reebok Instapump Fury Sandal, or traditional styles translated to one-piece uppers like New Balance with their deconstructed series.

With a massive focus placed on collaborations with celebrities, we’re seeing more trend-savvy women flocking to sneakers than ever before. And due to the celeb co-sign, sneaker heads that were perhaps a little “safer” with their shoe choices are able to wear a little riskier footwear – which is brilliant for footwear designers, as there’s nothing worse than stagnancy.

Filling Pieces has been setting a new standard for independent footwear brands, especially with their newest collection

Looking at the adidas vs. Nike rivalry, we’re seeing a gap where more obscure mid-level indie brands have an opportunity to squeeze in and flourish in their own right. The Internet is also playing a huge part enabling smaller brands to remain relevant and sustain themselves. Being able to sell directly to consumers allows brands to keep their margins reasonably low, as opposed to stores taking a large chunk; this in turn, them to reinvest in themselves. This reality is restructuring the way in which the footwear industry has functioned for decades.

Brand Black continue to push both performance and casual footwear, utilizing innovative construction and offer unique and highly advanced footwear

Smaller brands are able to maneuver a lot more freely than their larger counterparts in general, which allows them to question and manipulate certain aspects of the industry. Some are foregoing tradeshows – why do they need it when they can sell direct to consumer via website? Others, like FEIT, aren’t offering footwear on a traditional seasonal basis, but simply releasing products when it best suits both the brand and customer.

At the same time, more innovative construction methods are allowing smaller brands to offer more interesting and innovative sneakers. In an era where technology like 3D printing is realistically only a few short years from potentially being a commercially viable option in the footwear industry, we’re on the cusp of a total revolution not only with how shoes are designed and made, but also how the consumer purchases and interacts with brands. Hyper-localized manufacturing and greater levels of individualized adaptation will soon become a reality.

Nike continues to innovate, although this past year has been relatively quiet compared to lofty standards of the past. Besides becoming extremely popular over the past few seasons, adidas has done a great job pushing collabs and trickling down Y3 to their Original styles. They’ve also pushed innovation to new levels, the FutureCraft series being one of many brilliant examples.

Casbia brings true Italian crafstmanship together with rugged and daring porportionality to deliver incredibly striking and beautiful footwear.

Whether it is their work with the super innovative London-based product design agency, Alexander Taylor Studio, or their hyper-local, fully automated Speed Factory concept, adidas is pushing better innovation and sustainability in more exciting ways than any of the other bigger brands in the game right now.

Innovation and sustainability have never been so closely linked as they have in the past couple seasons. The latter was a dirty word for a long time and sustainable shoes generally associated with hippy eco-warriors wearing ugly dad sandals. But as bigger and more aesthetically-driven brands pay more attention to combining sustainability with innovation, like the adidas x Parley Ultraboost, we’ll start to see a shift to an expectation of well-made, aesthetically-pleasing, sustainably-produced footwear.

A one-piece, asymetrically wrapped, stichless slip-on, the ekn x Mr. Bailey KUDZU is a celebration of high level, traditional craftsmanship and forward-thinking design.

Smaller brands have already started to push and re-mold the way we look at sustainably-produced footwear. I currently have a collaboration line with the sustainable footwear brand EKN Footwear, with the idea of creating shoes that are innovative, aesthetically-pleasing sneakers that also happen to be sustainable. The response we garnered from our unique front or back-laced BAMBOO Runner was really quite unprecedented, and proved that a sustainably produced sneaker can still be innovative. There are also quite a few new, smaller brands producing beautiful, sustainably-produced footwear, like upstart brand SARTRE Footwear.

Creating new classics, Sartre’s bringing sustainability and effortless style together.

It’s really the small to mid-level independent brands that are going to shape the future, directing sneakerheads to venture outside their given brand allegiances. Brandblack is executing slick on-court and off-court sneakers and apparel like no indie brand ever. There’s Clear Weather, Casbia or EKN, all bringing out stunning casual footwear. Filling Pieces continues to dominate that side of the market. Cole Haan, with their innovation lab out in New Hampshire and the recent release of some incredible product, is also a brand to keep an eye on.

Cole Haan combine innovation and beautifully crafted, traditional menswear better than any brand on the market.

Functionality will of course continue to be a huge part of performance sneakers, though we’ll start to see a shift in the way it’s produced due to technology opening up different development avenues. Close-to-the-body, low-to-the-ground sneakers that correct body posture and foot shape will continue to flourish, finding new ways to adapt to each consumers individual needs. Once again, 3D printed elements will allow for greater unique functionality, offering solutions to problems faced by everyday athletes.

A look at a contemporary concept inspired by an iconic silhouette. Illustration by Daniel Bailey.

Science will evolve material, allowing for a more harmonious pairing of technology and natural materials. This in turn will allow footwear not only to be highly functional, but imagine: it could also ensure good products that can give back to our bodies via vitamin- or bacterial-enriched materials, transferring into our bodies through our feet.

This article is a shortened version. Find the full length original, plus more stories and insights into the future of footwear, in our print issue #34, which you can get in our store. You can also subscribe for a full year of SNEAKERS mag.

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