Is This Just the Start of Ugly Gimmick Footwear?

Data research company EDITED thinks so, as it investigates the trend’s impact on sneakers, formal shoes, sandals, and heels.

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EDITED — a leading data company that works with brands and retailers across the world — has investigated the staying power of ugly, gimmicky footwear in 2023. Hypebeast looked into the boom in October 2020, reeling off brands like Merrell and SUBU, but in those two-and-a-half years, the industry (and subsequent consumer) has come a long way, welcoming LOEWE, JW Anderson, MSCHF, and many other notoriously irreverent labels into their rotation.

“Ugly” is a strong word, and it’s particularly divisive when it comes to describing shoes. One man’s trash is another man’s Maison Margiela Tabi Boot. However, over the past two seasons, there has been a resurgence in creativity that’s transcended the runway, gone on to become a viral sensation, landed in stores, and found itself on the feet of people who eschew a “Quiet Luxury” aesthetic.

Think JW Anderson x Wellipets, the frog-faced clogs that came as part of the designer’s Men’s Autumn Winter 23/Women’s Pre-Fall 23 show. Albeit opinion-splitting, there’s no denying that this level of fun has permeated the footwear game. Jonathan Anderson takes his kitsch attitude to his work at the Spanish fashion House, LOEWE, where he has produced heels covered in deflated balloons and pumps sitting on an inflated balloon. Cast your mind back even further, and you’ll remember Vetements‘ highlighter heels, Balenciaga‘s spring-suspended X-Pander sneaker, and the MSCHF Big Red Boot.

Such shoes are often spotted on a celebrity — partly because they’re the clientele who can afford said silhouette, but largely because of the virality that comes with wearing it. However, much like the dad shoe trend of the late 2010s, ugly footwear is everywhere you look, applicable and available to everyone of all tastes.

You can start with a foolproof essential. Per EDITED, “Chunky sandals have been a failsafe investment area over the past few seasons, with the inflatable trend giving renewed interest to the category.” Upping the ante is the Barbiecore craze; “Barbiecore offered mass market retailers an entry to the trend, with hot pinks accounting for 67% of pink sell-outs of heels.”

On a relatable level, brands such as HOKA, Cecilie Bahnsen and its ASICS collaboration, and On are having a moment of their own, each following on from the high-end ugly footwear buzz. “HOKA’s strategic moves to broaden its customer reach have seen its presence grow in the market, noting in stock options at END Clothing were up by 154%, 66% at Zappos and 44% at DICK’S Sporting Goods versus 2022. Chunky designs are a failsafe investment in the mass market, noting arrivals climb 9% in 2023, with sell-outs already tracked at H&M and Zara,” explains EDITED.

And the proof is there, as consumers are demanding more accessible, yet widely-considered “ugly” shoes, from the high street. Per EDITED, “Office UK has upped its buy of Crocs this season, with arrivals increasing 63% YoY with an expansive range of new models, including the Echo, Terrain and Mega Crush.”

What we deemed ugly footwear 10 years ago has become the de facto look of a trendsetter, and now we’re all wanting a slice of the joy. In many ways, it’s a lot like “Quiet Luxury” — both are TikTok-championed trends, both spawned from a need to face life head-on, and both are about truly loving the clothes and shoes you’re in.

You can read EDITED’s full report here. 

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