Shoe-care players are taking the casual fashion cycle seriously.

Especially since the retailers they service with branded shoe-care products have been pursuing the burgeoning trend toward leisure and outdoor footwear. And shoe-care firms said they are laboriously determined to support this turn in the casual direction.

Modern shoe care parallels today’s footwear market, which is characterized by a decreased demand for athletic and dress shoes. Firms noted that shoe-care items for sneakers and kidskin footwear are yielding to booming sales of products specially designed for materials found in today’s footwear styles, that balance performance, technology, environmental awareness, versatility, convenience and value.

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Suppliers contended that in order to develop and maintain brand-awareness, niche marketing is crucial. The majority of shoe-care companies have decided to focus on function-specific product for casualwear specialty markets. They are addressing the need for water-repellency and waterproofing; the care of suede, nubuck, oily leathers and fabrics, plus the development of products spanning from bright to earthy colors.

But in looking to the future of shoe care, executives discussed how they are tackling the pressures of private label versus branded, marketing and merchandising, as well as ecology-sensitive packaging.

CLEANING AND CONDITIONING

Resources contacted by FN have indicated that they are researching and developing detergents for use on uppersthat will remove stains while maintaining the integrity of the leather. Solvents that will not fade colors of suedes and nubucks will be marketed for spring 2015, along with conditioners to use on leather and fabric uppers after stains and scuffs have been removed.

In addition to special solvents, the cleaning of suede and nubuck requires a supplement of related accessories. Next season, retailers can expect to find more shoe-care suppliers offering suede- and nubuck-specific bars, brushes and buffers to treat those matte-leather surfaces associated with ever-popular casual shoe styles. Depending on the resource, the added accessories will be merchandised along with liquids or separately.

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Several shoe-care companies said they are introducing deodorizers in their cleaning products. For example, the strong odor related to the acetone-type formulas are being replaced with more “environmental” aromas such as pine. For spring’s heavy fabric season, water-based cleaners will smell more like the “fresh” detergents used in the laundry room. Shoe-care companies are addressing fabrics, such as canvas, as the trend toward using natural materials in footwear proliferates.

For the upcoming season the “hot” products in shoe care will expand on existing leather conditioners, to work more specifically with the year-round utility and hiker styles. Executives said they are introducing all-in-one products for the maintenance of oily leather boots, as well as marketing mink oil-enriched lotions and creams to be used as oil-tanned replenishers.

PROTECTANTS AND POLISHES

The trickle-down effect of water-repellent and waterproof footwear has provided a trade-off niche for many dress-shoe polish and athletics shoe-whitener firms that lost market share to the casual trend. Executives agreed that declines in polish sales have given way to rain-and-stain type protectant business booms.

No matter what the active ingredient, from silicone to beeswax, water-repellency is the buzzword for spring, as companies develop and merchandise shoe-care products for both leather and fabric shoes. Without exception, firms contacted by FN said they plan to increase the offering of water-repellent products and improve on existing formulas.

Executives recommended that buyers try the products extensively before they commit to a particular product. Water-based repellents, once applied, may stain the upper, generally have a longer drying time than solvent-based water-repellents, and may need to be applied frequently to retain potency. Laundry-additive repellents are only recommended on apparel or fabric footwear styles that can be subjected to heat in a dryer.

Critics of wax-based water-repellents such as beeswax said that, once applied to leather, the waterproofing performance may be increased and curing time decreased, but once the upper is treated with heavy wax, the leather no longer “breathes.” Sealant- and adhesive-waterproofing also achieve even greater performance, but the material loses its breathability.

Water-repellent or waterproof shoe-care products in spring 2015 will increasingly be merehandised with recommendations for multiple applications as the outdoor performance categories continue to thrive. Those who will benefit most will be retailers who look for ways to cross-merchandise hard-line hiking gear with apparel.

Some firms said they are looking to care for more than just hikers’ shoes. As a result, they are introducing “hiker care” products ,such as Ultraviolet Ray sunblock and muscle relievers, in an effort to establish themselves as onestop shopping resources. Smaller-sized containers and convenient compact cases that are easily portable to the next hike will be pushed for spring 2015 as well.

But as the growth of casual market products continue there are polish distributors and protectors that are turning to the fashion market’s bright color palette for new product for spring. Brilliant yellows, reds, blues and greens represent a small portion of the spring mix in terms of new products, yet address traditional kidskin-leather dress shoes.

SHOE TREES AND ACCESSORIES

In this category, the biggest sell-through opportunities exist during the gift-giving season and the golf market in the spring.

Here again, the most prevalent trends relate to caring for casual and active footwear. Retailers can expect a big push by suppliers to market casual shoe trees, accommodating the design of leisure and outdoor shoes. Their corresponding shoe trees (as compared to dress shoe trees) will have a lower price point, be lighter in weight and have higher sidewalls to accommodate hand-sewn lasts and casual shoes’ toe character.

But portability in shoe trees and accessories is also an important direction for the marketplace. The travel tree, made of white cedar instead of red, will make its debut in the spring and will allow consumers to take their footwear on the road for about a third less than the weight of dress shoe trees.

Euro-comfort and addressing women’s needs have also been important. Going forward, look for fully lasted men’s models with a high crown and wider toe to fit European comfort shoe imports. Plus, two models for women were introduced for fall and will go forward for spring, mimicking the models available in men’s sizes.

Suppliers will also be pushing full ranges of aromatic cedar shoe racks/sweater racks. Cedar products in gift sets, like hangers, blocks and novelty items, will be prevalent for consumers returning to the golf green.