Brand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Footwear In­dus­try

The hall­mark of the global footwear in­dus­try has been to pro­vide newer tech­nol­ogy to the wearer. The in­no­va­tion has been re­lent­less. From mid-sole cush­ion­ing in the 1970s to to­day’s self-lac­ing shoes. But all this is a bit alien to the In­dian con­sumer. Le

Shoes & Accessories - - Content - – by Ab­hi­manyu Mathur

The Global Footwear in­dus­try has al­ways been in in­no­va­tion-mode. The hall­mark of this in­dus­try has been to pro­vide newer tech­nol­ogy to the wearer. Whether it was the ma­te­ri­als used for cush­ion­ing the mid-sole in the 1970s or Nike’s Air Max shoe in 1989, in which the Air Tech­nol­ogy was vis­i­ble, the in­no­va­tion has been re­lent­less. We now see around 20 dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies that make up the run­ning shoe that have been added over the years.

To­day’s Global Tech­nol­ogy

More re­cently brands are tak­ing tech­nol­ogy to new heights; self-lac­ing shoe tech­nolo­gies from Nike called Hyper­adapt 1.0 and 3D Shoe Print­ing for cus­tomiza­tion and in­creased per­for­mance. Let’s not for­get how mul­ti­ple play­ers, shoe com­pa­nies and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are all com­ing out with their own ver­sion of Smart Shoes.

The kind of tech­nol­ogy that is be­ing ex­plored glob­ally is just mind blow­ing.

How rel­e­vant is this for In­dia?

But frankly, all this is so far re­moved from the In­dian Footwear In­dus­try. These tech­nolo­gies are un­af­ford­able for most peo­ple in de­vel­oped mar­kets, let alone the value-con­scious In­dian con­sumer.

Ad­di­tion­ally, In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ers have sev­eral chal­lenges such as, lo­gis­tics, ru­pee ap­pre­ci­a­tion, cheap knock offs and many more.

But the out­look for the footwear in­dus­try is good. Be­cause of in­creased dis­pos­able in­come and rapid pen­e­tra­tion of in­ter­net and smart phones.

What’s next for the footwear in­dus­try in In­dia? As these global tech­nolo­gies are too far out for In­dia. Let’s look at op­por­tu­ni­ties that are more re­al­is­tic, in terms of in­no­va­tion and brand­ing.

Here are three po­ten­tial spa­ces. This is not by any means an ex­haus­tive list. This is a just a sam­ple.

Wa­ter-proof Up­pers

For a coun­try that gets such an in­tense mon­soon in most parts, ‘wa­ter-proof’ ma­te­ri­als be­ing sold as up­pers are not very com­mon. There are a few ‘wa­ter-re­sis­tant’ ma­te­ri­als be­ing used. But they don’t stand a chance in our mon­soon. wa­ter in­vari­ably gets into the shoe.

Wa­ter-proof ma­te­ri­als like rub­ber that are used in In­dia do not breathe and your feet sweat in them There is a unique ma­te­rial, that is not only wa­ter-proof but is also breath­able, called Gore­tex or Polyte­traflu­o­roethy­lene.

This ma­te­rial is a won­der ma­te­rial be­cause it has 9 bil­lion mi­cro-pores in one square inch. That makes each pore 20,000 times smaller than a droplet of wa­ter and 700 times big­ger than a mol­e­cule of wa­ter vapour. It does not let the wa­ter in but it al­lows any sweat to go out, mak­ing the ma­te­rial breathe.

Gore­tex is used in jack­ets, pants, gloves and of course shoes. The ma­te­rial is widely used by brands like Adi­das, Brooks, Ecco, New Bal­ance, Un­der Ar­mour, The North Face, Mizuno and many more. All these brands charge a pre­mium for the shoes that use Gore­tex ma­te­rial.

For In­dia, this is a big in­no­va­tive and brand­ing op­por­tu­nity, but wa­ter-proof up­pers have re­ally not been sig­nif­i­cantly mar­keted.

Let’s as­sume that this may not be af­ford­able for the masses, but it cer­tainly is a big op­por­tu­nity, given the num­bers of our up­per mid­dle class and the in­creas­ing dis­pos­able in­come.

This is a big un­ad­dressed need in In­dia, and hence a great brand­ing op­por­tu­nity for In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ers, es­pe­cially in a coun­try that faces heavy mon­soon.


It’s an­other cat­e­gory that cur­rently re­mains a pre­scrip­tion prod­uct, and its ac­tual po­ten­tial is tremen­dous. With a lit­tle bit of ed­u­ca­tion, this com­po­nent of a shoe has the po­ten­tial to ex­plode.

Peo­ple suf­fer from pain in their feet caused by lack of sup­port in the shoes they wear. This is one most com­mon prob­lems.

Some peo­ple are flat-footed. Some have a high arch. These is­sues lead to se­vere foot pain, and most peo­ple are not aware that this can be re­duced with the right in-soles.

Let’s not for­get women who wear high heels. They prob­a­bly suf­fer the most. But in-soles can help them too. Other prod­ucts in­clude spe­cial in-soles for peo­ple who stand for a good part of the day due to their jobs, or peo­ple who run. There are dif­fer­ent types of in-soles for all these.

In the mar­ket­ing world this is what we call an ‘un­ad­dressed need’, or bet­ter yet ‘mul­ti­ple un­ad­dressed needs’. All it re­quires is for a com­pany to pick up the gaunt­let and do some ed­u­ca­tion.

The first en­trant will al­ways ben­e­fit the most. He will be seen as the leader, as the ex­pert, and be­cause of that it will be able to charge a pre­mium over later en­trants.


Shoe laces are not just a prob­lem for kids be­low the age of 7 and hence for their par­ents, who have to tie them. It can be quite a has­sle for adults as well.

But there are op­tions for this, stretch or elas­tic laces, which don’t need to be tied. Once put on, you just need to slip your foot in. The Amer­i­can brand Hick­ies has launched these laces. They have dif­fer­ent ways of putting on these elas­tic laces based on how tight or loose you want your shoe.

There are also other brands of laces, which are the nor­mal laces you tie, but they have in­no­vated and ex­per­i­mented in terms of de­signs, colours, shapes, lengths and thick­ness. They glow in the dark or sun; mag­netic tips, so the tips stay con­nected; waxed laces, so they don’t fray; wa­ter-re­pel­lant laces, anti-freeze laces and oth­ers. Mr Lacy is one such ex­am­ple.

Here is an­other space in the footwear in­dus­try that is rel­a­tively un­ex­plored in In­dia. This is not even an ex­pen­sive prod­uct, and it can cer­tainly be a place for peo­ple to ex­press their in­di­vid­u­al­ity. This is an op­por­tu­nity to bring some new news into the cat­e­gory and of course let’s not for­get ‘con­ve­nience’.


While laces are sep­a­rately avail­able in In­dia, they are not known or ex­per­i­men­ta­tive enough. As a shoe com­pany, you don’t need to rein­vent the wheel here and in­vest in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. Part­ner­ships is an easy op­tion. This is a good way for an In­dian brand to get at­ten­tion. We may not have the lat­est run­ning shoe tech­nol­ogy in­vented in In­dia, but we can bring at­ten­tion and ex­cite­ment to our brands in many ways. When shoe brands part­ner with an in­no­va­tive lace com­pany, they will be able to charge a pre­mium for it.

Com­po­nents can take the lead

Why is brand­ing left to the shoe brands? Why can’t the com­po­nent pro­duc­ers take the lead? In-soles, laces with wa­ter­proof up­pers are rel­e­vant op­tions for In­dia. They can take the lead in build­ing brands. It does re­quire some ed­u­ca­tion and mar­ket de­vel­op­ment though. But the up­side of that can be tremen­dous.

Dig­i­tal makes all this easy

More than ever, this is pos­si­ble. With on­line shop­ping boom­ing the way it is, it al­lows you to start small and grow. The on­line shop­ping wave is hap­pen­ing. You need to ride it. Cre­ate in­ter­est­ing spa­ces for your­selves, start hav­ing dif­fer­ent and new con­ver­sa­tions with your end-user us­ing so­cial me­dia, build ex­cite­ment in the cat­e­gory and for the brand. Be the first in your cat­e­gory. All it takes is some guts and gump­tion, and the glory is up for grabs.

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