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GFRC 2018 – Final report : Footwear industry facing tough decisions ahead: is digitisation inevitable?
| 14 May 2018

The recent Global Footwear Retail Conference featured this year’s highlights everything from footwear retail trends to new technologies and material innovations. 

Sponsored by Tencel, ISA Tantec and co-organised by APLF and the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA) the conference took place during the Fashion Access trade show in Hong Kong last March.

The conference kicked off on a positive note with Andy Polk, Vice President of FDRA giving an optimistic snapshot of the footwear market across the world. This was despite renewed rumors about the American Government Administration considering new tariffs on imports of shoes, clothing and consumer electronics from China, which may have a ripple effect on U.S. footwear manufacturers and on shoes consumption, warned Polk. “U.S. footwear tariffs stifle innovation and job creation and raise the cost of shoes for every American,” he said.

While the most current data shows shoe store sales sunk for the past year, total shoe sales across the world were up – indicating online sales and new other new channels were still growing.

Like other industries, the footwear industry is currently facing retail challenges including how to adapt to rapid consumer demand shifts and how to develop and implement speed to market strategies.  

The “Have it your way” effect
According to speakers from global trend forecasters Erica Ng, Senior Editor of WGSN Insight and Orietta Pelizzari of Studio Mattori, the next-generation retail model should be based on anticipating what the consumer wants. This applies especially to young Chinese consumers, who have become the largest consumers in department stores worldwide.  Belonging to the one child policy they are dubbed the “lonely generation”. “They want to be heard and to be seen and they want to look unique,” Ng says.

Indonesians have become the second largest Asian buyers in Europe and are craving for the same uniqueness, according to Pelizzari.  

That lead the discussion towards the future of customisation and how and when it will become mainstream. Top performers retailers like Le Saunda are increasingly taking initiatives that generate shoppers experience and that involve customisation both in-store and online, according to Sharon Weng, Deputy Brand Director, Le Saunda.  “Stores have become a branding opportunity,” she says. 

There was broad agreement retailers must embrace tools such as artificial intelligence, big data and personalisation to improve the customer experience.

Micro-Factories deployment should be simple
“My vision is that with some simplification it is technically possible to have shoes manufactured in stores. It contributes to provide emotion and movement to consumers and to put them in touch with how shoes are made,” Sergio Dulio, Manager, Atom Lab declared.  

His views were shared by Nicoline van Enter, Founder and Creative Director of the Footwearists and strong advocate of footwear 3D printing. Implementing 3D printing in-stores should be simple, van Enter believes. “Easing the deployment of 3D printing will trigger a retail revolution by providing consumers with the freedom to get the products they want. However, van Enter readily accepts 3D printing is not at this level today and is a complex environment involving many diverse players along with significant challenges. She highlighted the importance of educating designers on the benefits of 3D printing and other new technologies. “There is a need to produce a new generation of designers with engineering skills able to create a system that keeps the brands’ DNA and aesthetics while adapting it to new technologies,” she said. 

The retail technology panel also included Chinese startup Digital Boom’s Director, Oscar Zhang, who impressed the audience with the amazing properties of the company’s system which links big data analysis with ID media and face recognition to decipher consumers’ behavior and level of satisfaction when visiting stores.  

On the material innovation front, William Wong, Vice President, Hong Kong Footwear Association highlighted the Austrian company Lenzing’s TENCEL lyocell fibres for footwear. This bio-degradable wood-based fiber is an ideal alternative to conventional materials and represents a giant step towards fully recyclable shoes.

Last but not least, the conference co-organiser, the FDRA introduced to the audience its newly launched Material Exchange (ME), a cloud-based service of 3D files that provides realistic, life-like visuals of products.  “An innovation that is set to revolutionise production process,” according to Chris Hillyer, Director of Innovation, Deckers Brands.

More detail on the next edition of Global Footwear Retail Conference will be released on http://www.aplf.com/en-US/aplf-programmes. 

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