Coronavirus has Steve Madden, footwear brands focusing on flats, not heels

Steve Madden CEO: 'We've really pivoted more toward casual styles'

High heels are falling flat.

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With more companies continuing to allow employees to work from home in response to recent spikes of COVID-19, fashion footwear retailers are dressing down inventory.

Steve Madden CEO says the company will focus more on flats this fall with demand for comfort style on the rise during COVID-19. (Steve Madden). 

Steve Madden CEO Edward Rosenfeld told analysts on an earnings call last week that the brand is steering away from the dress shoe category to cater to the ongoing demand for comfortable styles like flat sandals, platforms, sneakers and casual boots this fall as a result of plunging dress shoe sales.

“It won't come as any surprise that the dress shoe penetration is down from where it was a year ago and from where we expected it would be coming into the year, and we've really pivoted more toward casual styles, and that's really what's performing in the market,” Rosenfeld said on the earnings call.

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Steve Madden reported its revenue declined 68 percent and experienced “massive order cancellations” in its wholesale market as a result of COVID-19 with less than 20 percent of its U.S. stores opening by the end of May and 50 percent at the end of June.

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And fashion industry insiders say with fewer workers commuting into the office, consumers will continue to seek out comfortable footwear styles – a trend that had already started before the pandemic.

Adam Tucker, president of Me Too Shoes, a women’s footwear company on sale at stores like Nordstrom and DSW, said pre-COVID-19 dress shoe sales comprised just 10 percent of his overall shoe business. Now that number is less than 5 percent.

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“The world, in general, has seen a downturn when it comes to dress ware – even before the pandemic hit, there’s been a casualization of American work ware in general,” Tucker told FOX Business, adding that the pandemic has resulted in a surge of sneaker sales. “Now that more people are homebound, we’ve had a big push from our customers asking for white bottoms.”

Steve Madden, like a number of retailers, has been hit hard by coronavirus-related store closures. And high-end retailers known for luxury shoe departments and dress ware, like Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor and Men's Warehouse owner Tailored Brands Inc., have all filed for bankruptcy.

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Still, while the new normal may be conducive to a blouse or button-up paired with shorts and leggings fit for the Zoom camera frame, celebrity stylists are optimistic that when more Americans can safely get back to work, there will be a renewed desire to dress up again.

"People are savvy about their image and people who have jobs want to keep their jobs, and that’s all going to play a big role in the economy coming back," New York City-based celebrity stylist Amanda Sanders said.

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