Millennials are making their parents' shoe brands cool again

BirkenstockBirkenstock FacebookWhy are Birkenstocks so loved by teens?

Millennials and centennials have something in common: they both have unlikely tastes for traditionally uncool footwear.

According to a recent report executed by Goldman Sachs and Teen Vogue, fashionable young (13-29) women’s favourite footwear brands include include Birkenstock, Sorel, and Nike.

Nike’s place on the list isn’t particularly surprising — teenagers love Nike, and the brand’s sneakers bode well with the athleisure-obsessed retail climate. But the other two brands are. Sure, “ugly” shoes have been on the rise for a bit, but aren’t Birkenstocks too clunky to be cool?

Not quite.

It turns out that these so-called ‘uncool’ shoes are actually super cool in the eyes of young people, as they are emblematic of many millennials’ and Gen Z-er’s mindsets.

“Uncool companies are ideal for millennials and Gen Z to love, discover,and sport because they represent exactly what the younger generation craves: being different without looking like you’re trying,” Jason Dorsey, millennial and Gen Z-expert of the Center for Generational Kinetics, explained to Business Insider.

“It’s easy to wear whatever the hot thing is that is all over social media for the one month it’s new, but it’s a lot harder to go on a different path and find the brands that are unexpected for you to be seen wearing,” he added.

Additionally, Birkenstocks appear to be exactly what millennials look for when they shop for footwear.

“Millennials are stuck in a place for footwear somewhere between being pragmatic and being unique,” Dorsey explained. “They want footwear that represents them and what makes them different, but increasingly they are more concerned that it functions well and solves their practical needs.”

Birkenstocks are certainly practical.

And Gen Z is even more practical than its preceding generation. “Our initial research indicates that Gen Z are more pragmatic and practical when it comes to picking brands to wear than millennials,” Dorsey said.

Further, functionality and usefulness are key for millennials, Jeff Fromm, president of millennial-focused marketing research firm FutureCast and author of Marketing to Millennials, explained to Business Insider.

“[There are] probably two primary drivers,” Fromm explained. “One is that millennials love brands that are useful — and some of these brands have strong usefulness in terms of their design and functionality, and millennials also love things that are [a] good value, off the beaten path kind of stuff. Some of these brands have that going from them.”

Functionality, he explained, could be “anything from an arch design to any other number of factors,” adding that “street appeal” is also crucial.

LL Bean is a prime of example of this. The staid heritage brand, though not recognised by Goldman Sachs and Teen Vogue’s “It Girls,” is enjoying a resurgence, to the point that tens of thousands of people are on a wait list to obtain a pair of its Bean Boots. Fromm attributes this popularity to the usefulness of the brand’s products. A brand, he says, is “cool by being useful.”

But these types of shoes, while certainly not exorbitant, are not cheap in comparison to their fast fashion competitors.

The price of Birkenstock women’s classic Arizona sandal varies, from $99.95 to $160. Nike’s sneakers, while not necessarily “uncool,” are not cheap, either, and young people are buying them in droves. This pattern seems oddly incongruous with what many might believe about young people — that they don’t have money, so they strictly shop at fast fashion retailers.

But, there are actually two poles when it comes to spending, Fromm explained.

“There’s a fashion trend that’s disposable, where it’s very expensive items, but ‘I don’t expect them to last very long,'” Fromm said. “Then there’s a trend around durable [apparel], so if the brand is a durable brand, then [the questions are ‘is it highly functional, does it have street appeal?,’ those kinds of things.” The brands that are caught in the middle — that aren’t disposable and trend-based but aren’t timeless and durable — are the brands that do not succeed with young people.

But durable apparel — like a Sorel boot, for example — provides a good value for its price, and will likely last for several torrential winters. And after all, as Fromm suggested, useful is the new cool.

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