As we have already reported in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe, the sister publication that covers Adidas, Nike, Puma and other athletic footwear brands, the international branded athletic footwear market expanded by 9.9 percent at the wholesale level in 2005 to a total of $24.2 billion (see chart on page 10 of this issue), helped mainly by a boom for this kind of footwear in Russia and other emerging markets. While they increased by only 7.8 percent in the USA and by 9.9 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, they jumped by 24.3 percent in Europe and other parts of the world.

Some of the biggest increases were recorded by more casual sports-inspired lifestyle brands such as Converse or Puma, and the other brands themselves have reported strong gains in the more fashion-oriented “fusion” segments of their product ranges. Evidently the athletic brands have been reacting well to the onslaught from the casual footwear sector of the last few years. In this vast so-called “brown shoe market,” only the more technical rugged outdoor brands such as Merrell, Columbia, Salomon or Keen – the new wonder of the outdoor footwear market – have scored better.

As shown in the tables of the next few pages, the “rugged outdoor footwear” market, which continued to be led by Timberland, grew in fact by 12.5 percent in 2005 to $2.46 billion at wholesale, according to our annual research into the branded brown shoe market, made in cooperation with SGI. Hi-Tec Sports, which is also featured in our athletic footwear chart, came out third in the ranking after Timberland, Merrell and Rocky Brands, and just ahead of Columbia.

By contrast, the more comfort-oriented segment of the brown shoe market, which is led by Clarks and by ECCO, grew by only 8.7 percent to $5.98 billion. With a sales increase of 29.0 percent, Geox became a strong third player in this market, which we call “lifestyle casual,” and it is likely to overtake ECCO as #2 this year. Another very strong brand, Birkenstock, raced past Rockport. Another new American wonder in this market, Crocs, helped to prop up the total score, offsetting declines at other brands such as Dr. Martens and the recently sold Pony.

Like in 2004, there was more vigor in the so-called “fashion casual” market segment of the brown shoe market in 2005, as dressier and more fashion-oriented styles continue to make inroads, particularly among teenage girls the world over. Brands such as Kickers, UGG, Lacoste, Replay and Miss Sixty performed much better than the average. With its broad product range and its knack for new trends, Skechers, which is also featured for the first time in our athletic footwear chart, remained the leader in this market segment.

Our figures concern only invoiced sales of footwear. To put them together we rely on public data and, where they are missing, on management input and on industry estimates for the major brands, if they seem to be authoritative enough. We have skipped this time a couple of Spanish brands – A.R.T. and Panama Jack/Havana Joe – because after many years they stopped all of a sudden supplying their figures to us, perhaps because they were not so rosy this time.