The footwear industry dates back to cobbler stores in medieval times. Since then, many changes have occurred in the footwear market; the most influential of these being the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th to mid-19th Century, when mass production allowed shoes to be made in generic sizing. This paved the way for shoes to be made cheaply and universal ownership to be a realistic prospect. It was at this time that stores exclusively selling shoes originally emerged.
The selling of shoes has been affected in the last century by the peaks and troughs that the economic climate of the UK has endured. This has, in turn, played its part in the fashions of the century, with wants, needs and musts being tailored to the fiscal situation of the nation.
In 1914-1918 the First World War implanted a desire for a practical choice of shoe for women, who adopted the roles of workers that had previously been filled by men, who were now fighting in the war. The lace-up boot that had been worn as a fashionable item at the turn of the century became a practical and indeed stylish design, although at the end of the war the trends abruptly changed to incorporate bright colour and more intricate design, in an attempt to cast off the grim wartime depression. Art Deco became the trend of choice with crystals, faux gemstones and embroidery embellishing styles. The Flapper fashions and dance trends such as the Charleston demanded a securely fashioned shoe for ladies, with a low heel and closed-toe protecting the feet in this quickstep dance.
The Wall Street Crash in 1929 saw the world plunged into a financial depression, meaning that the demand for footwear that was of a higher quality, ensuring it lasted longer, grew greatly. At the end of the 1930s, the Second World War stretched this need even further, with a shortage of leather, which was reserved for military use, and a ban on rubber usage for anything non-essential, forcing shoemakers to use materials such as wood and cork. Heel heights became limited so as not to use excess materials, but this was addressed at the end of the war with the introduction of the stiletto heel to contemporary fashion. Trends became more diverse and as financial conditions improved after the war, small businesses were able to enter the industry.
It was during the 1960s that the shoe industry saw its next greatest change, as young people found themselves with more money to spend, and began to experiment with fashion. Long boots in bold colours and metallic materials became a popular choice, leading onto the glam rock and punk styles of the 1970s. The 1980s saw a dramatic increase in the desire for designer labels, as young people with money to spend looked to flaunt their wealth.
More recently, beginning in the 1990s, a movement back towards a demand for quality and comfort, as well as style, occurred. The popularity of labels and the pricing that put them into the luxury market proved to be as popular as ever, a trend that still shows no sign of slowing. The rise in demand for heel heights continued too, although paradoxically, along with an increased appetite for comfortable footwear.
The introduction of the internet at this time proved to be the beginning of the change in the way people shop and the way in which retailers target their audience.
In 2011, Mintel estimated that total online shoe sales in the UK reached approximately £660m, approximately 8.3% of the total footwear market, forecasting this spending to double by 2016 and threatening the high street and particularly independent stores. Over half of all consumers buy new shoes to replace a pair which has worn out, though over a quarter purchase new shoes as a treat, indicating that shoes are currently seen as a fashion accessory as opposed to a necessary commodity – and men are just as likely to treat themselves as women!
However, the ways in which people currently shop for shoes is not only expanding online. Vending machines situated near nightclubs offer compact and comfortable shoes for the journey home, for when high heels have begun to take their toll. In Spain, ShopInstantShoe are using an intelligent leather material to shape shoes to the wearer’s foot, and in Thailand a company is allowing the consumer to select the creature from which their leather will be crafted.
Whilst fashion trends might be taking influence from the past, the retail industry is pushing forward with innovative marketing and designs to meet the demands of the public who live in a technologically advancing world.
Written by family business Charles Clinkard