Sponsored By

Licensed Footwear Special Report: What’s on Your Feet

Footwear sales set a torrid pace across all demographics and markets.

Jane Neal

February 13, 2024

8 Min Read
The Powerpuff Girls Nike SB Dunk Low collaboration
The Powerpuff Girls Nike SB Dunk Low collaborationThe Powerpuff Girls, Nike

At a Glance

  • Who’s buying licensed footwear?
  • Athletic shoes and sneakers
  • Kids' footwear trends

Whether you refer to them as sneakers, trainers, kicks, running shoes, tennis shoes or gym shoes, athletic footwear maintains a huge presence among people from virtually every walk of life. From Baby’s first sneaker-style booties to the trendiest celebrity-endorsed basketball kicks or the timeless appeal of “dad shoes,” athleisure footwear is a monumental business. According to Statista, the global athletic footwear market supports a multi-billion U.S. dollar industry. A part of the clothing and apparel industry, the footwear market, spanning everything from luxury dress models to minimalist mocs and love-or-hate-’em Crocs, is largely dominated by sneakers, athletic models and specialty sporting shoes. In 2023, the revenue of the global footwear market was estimated to be worth almost $400 billion.

Licensing International’s 2023 Global Licensing Industry Study found footwear showed a 6% market growth. The study found that in 2022, Global Sales Revenue from Licensed Merchandise and Services for footwear grew (3%) $12,002 (in millions).

According to the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), footwear remains one of the most beloved items Americans purchase. The FDRA reports that in 2022, the U.S. imported 8.1 pairs of shoes for every man, woman and child in the country, and annual sales topped $104.6 billion.

Related:Keeping up with Fashion Licensing Trends

Wonka Converse collection.

Who’s Buying?

It’s not just devoted sneakerheads, like skateboarders, hip-hop fans and athletes, driving demand; almost everyone owns at least one pair of sneakers. According to a 2018 Statista poll, the latest data available shows 26.7% of adults reported purchasing two pairs of sports shoes (sneakers) in the last year. Another 22.5% reported purchasing one pair, while 35.5% reported purchasing three or more pairs in one year alone. Only about 3% of adults reported buying no sneakers at all.

A recent survey from Kuru Footwear found that overall, America’s No. 1 popular shoe style is sneakers (36%), followed by running shoes (10%) and slip-ons (8%). This result may come as no surprise, considering the survey also found that 76% of Americans value “comfort” above “style.”

And no one needs to be an athlete to wear athletic shoes. For some, their shoes are all about style, while others look for casual comfort and there’s a sizable segment that focuses on collectability and return on investment. Many credit the launch of Michael Jordan’s iconic 1985 Air Jordan high-top sneakers with starting the collectible trade. (Ben Affleck’s recent film, “Air,” tells the story of Jordan’s early partnership with Nike and the rise of sneaker culture.)

Related:Outerstuff: Showcasing Fandom Through Fashion

Nike remains a powerhouse in the world of sneaker culture. Statista reports Nike footwear sales of $29 billion in the fiscal year ending May 31, 2022 (plus $2 billion from Converse), making Nike the clear top dog in the global sneakers market.

Statista forecasts the global revenue in the Athletic Footwear segment of the footwear market will continuously increase between 2023 and 2028 by a total of $11.9 billion (+22.46%). After the eighth consecutive increasing year, the indicator is estimated to reach $64.92 billion and therefore a new peak in 2028.

In 2022, the total global sneakers market revenue was valued at approximately $72.7 billion and was forecast to reach a value of over 100 billion dollars by 2026.

Riding a Big Wave

Athletic footwear seamlessly transitioned off the court and onto the street, red carpets, concert stages and into more formal settings with the nearly annual launches of immensely popular Air Jordan series models. The phenomenon evolved from early “OG” cool to increasingly fancier footwear, along with broader licensing options as more and more celebrities and brands began shoe collabs. Consumers love licensed merchandise, in part because it allows them to publicly show their affection and affiliation with a brand. In the footwear category, there are seemingly endless options and examples of licensed footwear. The leap from sports stars to entertainment superstars is a pretty easy one. For example, in September, Rihanna and sports company, PUMA, officially launched their newest product franchise. Rihanna returned to the brand as creative director for Fenty x PUMA, with a multiyear partnership and several product launches in the pipeline. In November, PUMA announced the return of Rihanna’s iconic Creeper.

In August, celebrity, Snoop Dogg, entered the footwear world by bringing his style to Skechers as part of a multiyear partnership. Rapper and singer, Bad Bunny and adidas continued their collaboration with the launch of the Response CL in October. Also in October, Perry Ellis International announced a licensing partnership with ACI International, a manufacturer and marketer of footwear in the U.S. and Canada. This new collaboration will focus on men’s and boys’ footwear collections under the iconic Original Penguin brand, with designs slated to debut this year. And it was just last year that luxury fashion house, Balenciaga, partnered with adidas for a collaborative collection. Expect to see the trend of superstar x designer sneaker collaborations to continue its upswing this year and beyond.

Snoop Dogg x Skechers collaboration.

The Croc Factor

Crocs, maker of the decidedly unathletic foam clogs, has certainly seen its popularity ebb and flow. Originally created as a slip-on for boaters and gardeners, it became ubiquitous by 2006. But that bloom gradually faded, and by 2018, CNBC reported the footwear company was closing the last of its manufacturer stores. These days, the brand is thriving. Crocs has sold over 850 million pairs of its signature footwear in more than 85 countries. The brand, along with Mojang Studios’ leading global gaming brand, Minecraft, were part of the keynote lineup at 2023’s Licensing Expo. Crocs has licensed partnerships with lifestyle, sports, music, entertainment and celebrity brands. In addition to its partnership with Minecraft, Crocs saw licensed partnerships with Sonic the Hedgehog, Spider-Man, Crayola, Taco Bell, Shrek, Hershey’s, VeeFriends, Crunchyroll’s “Jujutsu Kaisen” and most recently, McDonald’s.

These Boots are Made for Walking

Of course, there’s more to footwear than athletic shoes and sneakers. According to a report from Expert Market Research Insights, the global hiking footwear market reached a value of about $19.95 billion in 2023. The market is further estimated to grow at a CAGR of 3.30% in the forecast period of 2024-2032 to reach a value of around $26.94 billion by 2032. It’s a smaller growth market, but there are still licensing deals to be had in the sector. In September, Merrell, a leading hiking and outdoor footwear brand, and the Jeep brand announced the launch of the Merrell Moab 3 Mid x Jeep – a hiking boot built on the legendary heritage of the two icons. Wolverine, a 140-year-old boot and clothing company, and 343 Industries, developer of the Halo franchise, announced the continuation of their partnership last March. Following the first launch in 2022 of the Wolverine x Halo Master Chief boot that sold out in less than one minute, the latest four-boot, limited-edition drop is available in Spartan-inspired colorways: Wild Kovan, Foxwood Seal, Scorpion Horvath and Midnight Frost.

PUMA x Fenty Creeper sneaker.

Kids’ Stuff

The biggest trend in footwear might be from the smallest consumers. Kids grow fast, and subsequently, they go through a lot of footwear. They also love to rep their favorite IP on their feet. Whether it’s toddlers wearing “Shrek” Crocs, preschoolers in “The Little Mermaid” sneakers or tweens in “Wonka” Converse, footwear collaborations seem to have a universal appeal. The kids’ footwear market is one area where there has been lots of growth and the potential seems to be burgeoning. According to Run Repeat, sales are at an all-time high for kids’ shoes as of 2023, reaching a global revenue of $50.57 billion. And that’s anticipated to double in the year 2032. Its CAGR within the projection period of 2022-2032 is at 8.2%. By 2032, kids’ footwear revenue is anticipated to reach a total of $102.79 billion. According to new data from Circana (formerly IRI and The NPD Group), kids’ shoes are the fastest-growing segment of the footwear market.

That growth can definitely be seen in the licensing segment. According to MarkWide Research, collaborations between footwear brands and popular character franchises are becoming commonplace, driving the demand for licensed children’s shoes. June saw Vans collaborating with “Sesame Street.” The Vans x “Sesame Street” collection actually included options for the entire family with a head-to-toe offering of adult and kids’ Vans Classics, Vans x “Sesame Street” by Lizzie Armanto Skate styles and Vans Customs prints. In October, Crayola and Robeez, known for its soft sole infant shoes, unveiled a collaboration. With color-changing and glow-in-the-dark designs, the collection features a textured suede sole that helps little feet achieve traction, along with a kick-proof fit.

October also saw multiple PUMA collaborations. Jazwares announced a partnership with PUMA for footwear featuring core Squishmallows characters, which is set to launch in the spring. At the same time, Universal Products & Experiences announced PUMA would join the lineup of partners for DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls Band Together” movie. The exclusive PUMA x Trolls collection, which includes clothing and footwear, is set to launch early this year.

PUMA also announced a second collaboration with the ZAG HEROEZ global TV show, “Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir.” PUMA x Miraculous Part 2 offers up the Mayze Stack, RS-X Efekt and Slipstream styles.

In November, to celebrate “The Powerpuff Girls” 25th anniversary, Nike released a “Powerpuff Girls” SB Dunk Low collaboration. The collection included three different colorways to pay tribute to the three tiny superheroes: Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. 

There are a slew of children’s and family films heading to theaters (and streaming) this year. Disney has plans for live-action versions of “Lilo & Stitch” and “Snow White,” and kids can also look forward to “Kung Fu Panda 4,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.” And as footwear and film collaborations fit better than Cinderella’s slipper, parents can expect an uptick in licensed footwear as the summer movie blockbuster season approaches as well as when it comes time to shop for back-to-school shoes.

This article was featured in February’s issue of License Global.

About the Author(s)

Jane Neal

Content Editor, License Global

Jane Neal is a Content Editor for License Global. Working remotely in the great state of Wisconsin, Jane specializes in retail and pop-culture trends.

She has worked extensively in the communication field as a managing editor, advertising copywriter, technical writer and journalist. She detoured for several years into academia where she taught journalism, English and humanities at the college level.

A complete Marvel nerd, she enjoys food, films, fishing, friends and family … and alliteration.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry Article
Join 62,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like