"The sneaker business was solid in 2016, despite the weakness in basketball, called out by brands and retailers," sports industry analyst Matt Powell of NPD Group told TheStreet in an email. He said first-quarter sales were hurt by late income tax refunds, something on full display at sneaker seller Foot Locker (FL) - Get Report , but he expects them to bounce back.
"We are in a retro/casual cycle fight now," he added, "so while there is a lot of innovation, technology is not fashionable."
Sneaker companies are experimenting with new and sustainable materials, such as in the new Corn & Cotton line from Adidas owned Reebok, shoes made from corn and organic cotton that will decompose when treated with microbes; the Parley line from Adidas, which uses recycled plastic found in the ocean; and 3-D models from Adidas, Nike and Under Armour. The sneaker kings are also trying to enhance their distribution channels so that the latest sneakers get to customers within weeks, not months, of being first introduced.
Nike, for one, now has specific factories in the U.S. to serve North America, in Europe for its European customers and in the Far East to deliver to its fans in Asia. Adidas is opening up small factories in the U.S. to churn out sneakers to a domestic audience. Meanwhile, Under Armour has a new facility in its Baltimore, Md. backyard devoted to U.S. manufacturing initiatives.
In Powell's opinion, it is Adidas that is "leading the pack on innovation and remains the hottest brand in the market."
Not every analyst or industry watcher will agree with Powell, but the proof is in the sneakers themselves.
Read on to see what's on the market now or coming soon.