Non-​Athletes Driving Sales of Fashionable Running Shoes

Sales of athletic footwear and sophisticated running shoes are getting a boost from non-​athletes who are more interested in making a fashion statement.  Shoppers are increasingly scooping up running shoes because they are comfortable and trendy, and they aren't afraid to spend big money. 

Sales of running shoes are driving the entire athletic shoe industry.  Shoes like the new Nike Free — a $100 running shoe available in "hot punch" pink — are boosting sales.  In fact, almost 14% of Nike's $20.9 billion in global sales in fiscal 2011 was generated from the running category.

Sales of such shoes in the U.S. surged 14% to $6.46 billion in the 12 months through March, according to NPD Group. And first-​quarter profit gains pushed up shares at retailers from Foot Locker Inc. to Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., evidence that a trend that began two years ago is still thriving.


Since the recession, Nike and Adidas AG have tapped into consumers’ demand for more value by offering a slew of running shoes that are easy on the eyes and on the feet, according to Marshal Cohen, an NPD analyst.

We’ve seen the running-​shoe business become a fashion business, as well as a comfort and innovation business,” said Cohen, who is based in Port Washington, New York. “When you put that together, that’s a positive perfect storm.”

Athletic footwear has long been worn off the court or field. In the 1980s, rap stars helped turn basketball shoes such as Nike’s Air Force 1 and Adidas’s Superstar into bestsellers.  Air Jordan basketball shoes went on to become a fixture of urban street fashion.

While running shoes also have been used for everyday wear, sales surged in 2010 with the advent of lightweight shoes that weigh less than 10 ounces and come in a range of neon hues.


The continued “casualization” of society has also spurred sneaker sales, according to Chris Svezia, an analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group in New York.

We’re getting more and more casual every decade,” Svezia said. “That by itself doesn’t translate into good athletic footwear sales, but it helps.”

Investors are betting sporting goods retailers and sneaker makers will continue to benefit from the running-​shoe boom.