Why the Indian Footwear Industry Needs To Walk the Talk With Inclusive Footwear

The inclusivity walk is all about identifying the solution for one and extending to multiple consumers

By Ahmad Hushsham

Freepik

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In today's contemporary world, footwear has become an extension of our everyday persona. And naturally so, when it comes to our everyday lifestyle, we like to walk the talk with our actions and choosing the right footwear becomes synonymous to it. Research suggests that footwear is not just an extension of yourself, however, many consumers consider it as their second skin.

Nonetheless, imagine the feeling of vulnerability that stems from a sheer lack of accessibility and availability of this second skin. While we often talk about the need for inclusive designs and accessible footwear, however, most global brands fail to make it a primary focus. Over the past few years, representation and inclusivity have been the buzzing keywords across the fashion industry. Consumer cohorts ranging from elderly, pregnant women and kids to big feet and specially-abled feet; the industry hasn't fallen short of creating niche new categories with problem solving offerings.

The global pandemic and redefining of the footwear landscape

During COVID-19, consumer behavior has witnessed a dynamic reimagining of the footwear landscape. With consumers demanding a round-the-clock comfort with fashion, it is up to the new-age and traditional footwear brands to become enablers for a consumer-first approach. By making innovation a necessity, it is time for the brands to become inclusivity consultants and take ownership of materializing the neo trends and technologies. From ergonomic designs to bounce technology to arch-support, it is a paramount requirement to adopt a universal design lens to the unique footwear needs.

India is a land of diversity, and with the Indian footwear industry expected to reach $27.84 billion by 2027, we can further celebrate this through representation via its product offerings. Size-inclusive footwear necessitates a revision to accommodate for demographic, anthropometric features of the Indian feet for more comfortable footwear. By adopting it as a methodology that enables manufacturers and designers to factor all individualistic perspectives, brands can curate experiences of belongingness.

Adapting a universal design lens

India is the second-largest footwear producing country after China, producing 2,257 million pairs annually. The simplest way to start is by not depending on the footwear sizing system of other countries. In a world where standardization of ideals has long existed, our feet are no exception. There is a serious dearth of available choices with the footwear scale on leading brands being restricted to 'standardized sizes'. This inaccessibility extends beyond stock availability to low manufacturing rate for size-inclusive footwear; several popular e-commerce platforms don't list size 14 and 15 and this is just one example. The need for the Indian footwear industry to walk the talk with inclusive footwear is now as the consumer fatigue for the issue is exponentially rising.

Embracing the Indian diversity with a response and representation approach

Accessibility as the disciplinary principle for inclusive designs

The second driving force is accessibility, which is often used loosely in the fashion industry. It cannot work in silos and needs to be looked upon as the disciplinary principle for inclusive designs. Brands need to build the moments of belongingness by treating accessibility as a process that makes these experiences available across consumer cohorts. Several facts state that with improvements in healthcare, consumers across the globe are growing in physique. As an aftermath, our feet sizes have also grown bigger. Despite this, the footwear brands are in a state of stagnation when it comes to product innovations.

Need to normalize inclusive constructure styles

While many brands focus on exclusivity of the product, they forget about inclusive constructure styles for every type of Indian feet. The production costs and these niche categories are the deciding factors. Today, engaging in inclusive marketing of the products that are solving a unique problem is becoming increasingly paramount as a way to stay relevant in today's meticulous cohorts of the young generation. However, to truly take on their role as inclusivity consultants, brands need to normalize such unique requirements. This would automatically result in redefining accessibility and benefits in the coming years. Accessibility within the footwear space should only mean 'adding value and making a difference' to lives.

With this, the footwear industry needs to upgrade all the contemporary trends into inclusive and universal approach designs. The cohesive vision for the Indian footwear market should be towards manufacturing mainstream footwear that is functionally and aesthetically inclusive. Data suggests that GenZ and Millennials switch to brands that support a cause. It poses a great opportunity for brands to add user experiences and turn them into loyalists.

Eradicating the gap between fashion and functionality

Additionally, statistics show how 70 per cent GenZ and Millennials believe that socially driven brands are at premium pricing. However, they are willing to make adjustments if the brand doesn't align with their personal values. As these new-age consumers redefine the future of brand engagement, brands must be aggressive in vocalizing their ideals. The route to inclusivity is in design and pricing solutions. Brands should start eradicating the gap between fashion and functionality; the ability to satisfy both the fashion and function side in a very competitive market.

The inclusivity walk is all about identifying the solution for one and extending to multiple consumers. It can be best achieved by working as collaborators and co-designers with the true brand custodians - the consumers. One should realize that inclusive designs aren't all-inclusive but rather they identify different ways for different cohorts to feel included. The need of the hour for Indian brands is to up their game as they become advocates for creating footwear that make consumers feel like belonging.

Ahmad Hushsham

Founder & CEO, YOHO

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