Work Shoe Makers Woo Women Via Fashion, Style

In an effort to meet the demand of women working in construction, sanitation, and other physical jobs, several professional and safety shoe manufacturers are producing women’s footwear shoes to satisfy the rapidly growing market.

One manufacturer, Jallette Inc., Ivyland, Pa., has gone as far as adding a line of fashionable women’s safety shoes in an array of colors and styles.

Overall, the consensus of the work and safety market by manufacturers is business is improving, sales are increasing, and they are optimistic again about the future growth of the market. Although they reported heavy industry is declining, the high-tech element of the production is increasing.

Last year, a majority of manufacturers polled by FN revealed fashion had become part of the market; not only were blue-collar workers wearing the footwear, but it also was considered a “fad’ outside of the specialty market.
Fashion continues to be a factor in the work shoe market, and some manufacturers who do not want to miss out on the new market are becoming more fashionable by adding touches of style and color to their lines.

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Style and Function

Titan Industrial Footwear, a division of Walker Shoe Co., Asheboro, N.C., is doing just that. The company has added different looks, padded collars and various stylish features to its line of shoes, noted Dan Saylor, president. He added, “We are a lot more stylish than we were five years ago.’

Sheboygan Footwear Inc., Sheboygan, Wis., “may be stylish in the functional styles,’ according to Palmer Beebe, the general manager. Beebe explained the firm is trying to produce what is performing well– lightweight safety shoes.
Weinbrenner Shoe Co., Merrill, Wis., said its focus is not on fashion but the American working men in the mills and on farms.

For the past few years, the market has seen its ups as well as its downs. Now things are finally looking up for producers and the general market, sales have increased, and companies have added new and updated styles, sources said.

“Our sales are up 10-15 percent this year,’ said Rick Sherwin, executive vice president, Dunham Shoes, Brattleboro, Vt. The firm is expanding its waterproof leather program with three to four new styles in insulated and non-insulated materials. “We continue to expand our toe safety program, and we are sticking with primary active made-in-the-U.S.A. products.’

Safety Stabilization

Saylor of Titan Industrial contended the market is holding its own over last year, but “the heavy industry is down due to too many layoffs in the steel industry.’ Now, he said, “there is a stabilization in the safety shoes because people are becoming more conscious of the lighter types of safety shoes. Our company has been doing excellent; we are optimistic and are looking for a very good ’88. Sales are up for ’87 and are showing an increase for ’88.’ The firm has featured several new styles in its catalog, ultra-light and comfort-oriented safety shoes.

“Business is booming, and sales have been holding about level,’ said Bill Ison, vice president of sales, Musebeck Shoe Co., Oconomoc, Wis. “Overall, it has been beyond our expectation for the year,’ and “I have been hearing more and more about companies who have been getting loaded up with business.’ He revealed both of the company’s plants have been running overtime, and the demand is outstripping production.

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Market is “Healthier’

“The market is healthier,’ noted Beebe. “I don’t know whether it’s more people working, but the phones at Sheboygan Footwear are ringing more.’ He said business is very healthy, and interest is focused more on outdoor safety, functional type footwear. Beebe would not disclose sales figures, but said sales are up significantly. He revealed the company has consolidated and is doing some great rubber bottoms. “We are trying to take the things we do well (safety shoes) and concentrate on that.’

Eric Merk, president, and owner of Danner Boot Co., Portland, Ore., saw a 23 percent increase this year on highly technological products. He said Danner’s Gortex work boots are doing very well, and the company has added a 10-inch boot for people in the armed services and a Gortex Oxford for post office workers.

Steve Kellman, vice president of marketing, Weinbrenner Shoe Co., Merrill, Wis., said that firm is optimistic about the market and has seen an increase in its customer base. “Safety is a vital part of our business, and we have developed some lighter weight work boots, using nonmetallic protective toe and new space age material,’ said Kellman.

Color, Lightness

Weinbrenner’s business is quite good, and sales are up, according to Kellman. The company has added polyurethane soles and nonmetallic caps as new features to its line.

“Our sales are up 15 percent this year,’ noted June Abbott, manager of Jallatte Inc., Ivyland, Pa. The firm has introduced ladies’ fashion shoes for women in a new sole technology.

With the increase of women in the workplace, there are not just more females in managerial positions; some now are climbing ladders, digging ditches and building houses. Sources said women used to complain that the safety shoes they were forced to wear were not very becoming or attractive; so to allow them to look more “feminine,’ Jallette Inc. added its version of colorful, lightweight, comfortable, feminine-styled and general-purpose women’s safety shoes.
“Women like to look good, regardless of what their job is,’ explained Abbott, so the firm introduced fashion shoes for women who want “style.’ Jallette is among a growing list of work shoe manufacturers producing safety shoes for women.

“There is a demand for women’s safety shoes,’ said Musebeck’s Ison. “We do some women’s shoes, but we have a major problem with it because of the way we make shoes. We make nine different widths but due to the character of our last, we don’t have the correct safety to meet the last correctly. Since the demand is so high, we have to find strong resource to supply us with the toe.’

Sherwin of Dunham agreed: “There is a definite need in the market. It’s practical, and the demand for both the consumer and retailer is right. The women’s category is just starting to grow with us, but in the boot category.’

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