As demand for formal footwear dips, brands shift focus to casual wear such as flip-flops and slides
The pandemic has forced footwear brands to retrace their steps. As sales of formal footwear declined, with consumers working from home, the spotlight has fallen on casual footwear. Footwear manufacturers such as Lakhani Footwear, Red Chief and Metro Brands (which houses Metro Shoes), Mochi and Walkaway, have rejigged their strategy in the past year to suit this trend.
According to Ayyappan Rajagopal, head of business, Myntra, the relatively smaller segment of open footwear, which includes flip-flops and slides, has posted the strongest growth in the footwear segment on Myntra in 2020. “This rising demand led to several leading brands placing a higher emphasis on the casual segment on our platform,” he adds. Meanwhile, formal and occasion wear have taken a big hit.
Abheek Singhi, MD and senior partner, BCG, estimates that the footwear market in India is valued at Rs 75,000-85,000 crore, and about 45-50% of this market is unbranded. Most of the companies operating in the branded segment reported a 90-100% recovery in sales in the third quarter of FY21 (October-December), compared to the pre-Covid period. For the entire financial year, however, the revenue for the segment will see a drop of 10-15%, as per ICRA.
Informal is in
Much like the apparel and electronics categories, footwear, too, has seen better recovery in tier II cities and beyond. Lakhani Footwear claims it will close the year at the same revenue as last year — Rs 165 crore — despite the tough initial two-three months owing to the lockdown. The company currently caters to consumers at the bottom of the pyramid, with products such as slippers, sandals and shoes in the range of Rs 100-1500.
Lakhani Footwear is now bringing out a casual footwear range, with an eye on tier I cities, which will include sneakers and fashion footwear. “We have tied up with e-commerce marketplaces to introduce these products, and will also retail them through our website by Diwali,” says Mayank Lakhani, MD, Lakhani Infinity Footwear. These products will be priced in the Rs 700-2,000 range.
Red Chief is planning to launch a new brand, Comfort Walk, which would include products like flip-flops and slides for “value-seeking” consumers. “The demand for our products priced above Rs 2,500 was sluggish in 2020; hence, we plan to introduce a product range priced below Rs 1,000,” says Akhilesh Singh, COO, Leayan Global, which owns brand Red Chief. The company earns 40% of its revenue from formal leather shoes and 60% from casual footwear. Its products fall in the Rs 1,800-4,000 price range.
Making casualisation a priority, Metro Brands has reshuffled its inventory, and also designed a work-from-home collection in-house. “A few external formal brands are being phased out, while some like ID and Buckaroo are moving from offering formal to more casual footwear,” says Alisha Malik, VP, e-commerce and marketing, Metro Brands.
Further, the company is putting off investing in new inventory for its super-premium range of footwear that are priced at Rs 10,000-25,000. Metro Brands also plans to amplify the presence of Crocs, for which it is the retail partner in India, in the metro cities.
A good step?
Although the fashion industry has been moving towards casualisation since a while, the pandemic has certainly accelerated the pace, experts say. “In the past, most fashion trends cycles have lasted at least for a decade, so the shift towards casualisation is going to stay for a longer term,” says Singhi of BCG.
But footwear manufacturers, especially those that are mid-sized, will have to tread with caution as they will have to invest in building new capabilities — wider distribution networks and a robust online strategy — as they diversify their portfolios.
Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, says that footwear products, in general, have a longer lead time. They typically take about a year to be designed and launched in the market, and, hence, need more investment. “Companies will have to ensure that they make good of this investment,” he cautions.
Overall, industry watchers predict that the footwear market will be out of the woods by mid-2021.
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