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Formal Shoes Lose Favour with Russians Buying Into Athleisure Look

Gangster chic abandoned as changing preferences see sales of sports and leisure footwear soar across Russia.

Photo: High heels are out as Russian ladies learn to love leisure footwear.(Shutterstock, Inc/Pavel L Photo and Video)
High heels are out as Russian ladies learn to love leisure footwear.
Photo: High heels are out as Russian ladies learn to love leisure footwear.(Shutterstock, Inc/Pavel L Photo and Video)
High heels are out as Russian ladies learn to love leisure footwear.

The Russian footwear market is undergoing a fundamental change in consumer preferences, a change that has manifested itself in the purchase decisions of both male and female buyers. This shift has seen woman abandon their long-standing preference for supposedly more elegant high-heeled shoes, while men have opted to dispense with their traditional choice of genuine leather footwear.

Instead, both sexes are now favouring more casual, leisure-oriented footwear. Even the briefest perusal of many of the shoe shops in Moscow and the majority of other Russian cities will testify to the wholescale nature of this change, with sports shoes and sneakers now occupying racks that once held far more formal footwear. For many, this change reflects a shift in the way Russians see themselves, with the pseudo-Tarantino gangster chic of yesteryear dumped in favour of a more relaxed look.

This shift has seen casual/sports shoes come to dominate the Russian footwear market. In 2016, some 55% of the summer and winter collections in the men's sector were dedicated to such styles. In the women's sector, the figure was even higher, with leisure styles accounting for 70% of the new seasonal collections – a 10-15% increase on 2015.

Perhaps predictably, the global brands have taken the lead here, most notably Nike, New Balance, Adidas, Puma and Converse. There has, however, also been an increase in demand for a number of domestic and own-label brands, including Demix and Ralf Ringer. This new preference has also seen such footwear no longer solely on sale in specialised sportswear stores, with many conventional footwear chains now holding extensive stocks.

According to industry sources, the changes in the Russian footwear sector are largely in line with growing global preference for 'athleisure' – a style that sees sports footwear worn in hitherto unthought-of combinations with more formal items, such as business suits, overcoats and fur garments. Indeed, some see only the formidable Russian winter standing in the way of the year-round adoption of such a style.

Overall, Russia's sports footwear market – including casual sports shoes – doubled in value between 2010 and 2015 to US$4 billion, and is expected to be worth in excess of US$5 billion by 2020.

In terms of future trends, conventional footwear ranges are expected to incorporate ever more sporty elements, while there will also be an increasing variety of the leisure/formal hybrids pioneered by Adidas, Bosco di Ciliegi, Sportmaster, Decathlone, Puma and Jamilco. Many of the principal e-commerce players in the footwear sector – LaModa, Wildberry and KupiVIP – are expected fall in line with the trends being witnessed on the High Street.

In the case of Hong Kong distributors and manufacturers looking to serve the Russian footwear market, it is worth taking note of the brands and styles that are currently most in favour. In terms of younger consumers, Dr. Martens and Converse remain the undisputed market leaders, while the urban middle class has a noted preference for Ecco, Clarks, Rieker and Salamander footwear.

Above all others, though, Adidas has been the market leader in the Russian sports-shoes sector for nearly 40 years, a legacy of the brand's prominence during the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Despite considerable marketing spend, neither Reebok nor Nike has come close to dislodging their long-time rival from the affections of the Russian public.

Leonid Orlov, Moscow Consultant

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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