"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.
Just in time for summer running season, Adidas has released this shoe, which it claims provides 360-degree cooling for the entire foot.
This shoe boasts a 3-D web structure and dense zones in areas where the foot gets the most impact while running. It has a 3-D printed heel counter, which avoids gluing and stitching because it's integrated into the midsole.
The idea behind this sneaker is to tailor it to the customer's feet, really to create bespoke shoes in a hi-tech way.
A customer is fitted at an Adidas store after running briefly on a treadmill, where it creates a carbon copy of the athlete's footprint by matching contours and pressure points.
The price is yet to be determined.
As TheStreet reported, in April 300 pairs were released. That will be followed by 5,000 later this year, and some 100,000 in 2018.
Coming in the near future, yet unannounced by the company, are sneakers made with FutureCraft Biofabric to be used in the uppers. They will be made with 100% Biosteel fiber, a nature-based and completely biodegradable high-performance fiber that mimics silk. It was developed by the German biotech company AMSilk, according to Adidas. The sneaker company claims the material is 15% lighter, and potentially the "strongest fully natural material available."
Look, Mom, no socks!
These shoes, which don't require socks, are made of recycled plastic found in oceans, part of, says the company, its commitment to sustainability.
Adidas partnered with the environmental group Parley for the Oceans, which led to the release of the first mass-produced footwear created using Parley Ocean Plastic.
This lifestyle shoe is made of corn and organic cotton, which is bio-compostable after treated with microbes. It will be sold at Reebok stores and on reebok.com this fall.
"Making shoes out of things you can grow is a lot more appealing to us" than using petroleum products, Bill McInnis, head of Rebook Future told TheStreet in an interview.
Part of Nike's Breaking2 program, to help the elite runner finish a marathon in less than two hours, the company released this style made with the ZoomX midsole. It has a foam base that is a third lighter than the standard ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam typically used in athletic shoes.
That under-two-hour goal has remained elusive, but one runner got very close on May 6 in Monza, Italy. Kenyan runner and Olympics gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 24 seconds wearing the newest Nike sneakers.
These walking-around shoes have an inner sleeve that give a sock-like fit inspired by the Air Max 90.
Thirty or so years after the release of the Nike Air Max came the Nike VaporMax. This year's version is more promising than last year's, according to Sole Collector.
"The shoe has an exaggerated bubble on bottom paired with a sleek Flyknit [featherweight, form-fitting and virtually seamless yarns and fabrics], a combo that Nike claims results in the most flexible Air Max ever," wrote Brendan Dunne in Sole Collector. "The cushioning system is especially notable for its lack of foam-the traditional midsole is gone and the Flyknit upper sits directly on top of the Air bag. In removing a layer separating the foot and the sole, Nike hopes to address a design issue that's been there for years."
Remember when learning to tie your shoes was an accomplishment worth celebrating? No more.
With this hi-tech style, you simply insert your feet into the shoes and the laces tighten automatically. That is, as long as you remember to keep your shoes charged. The shoes are wired, so you plug a cord into each shoe and an outlet to keep the mechanism juiced. Nike says the shoe's charge will last about two weeks.
This shoe debuted late last year for about $720, but has become a collector's item among sneaker geeks who shell out as much at $1,200 for the novelty item.
According to RunningShoesGuru, the Europa "brings a new feel to the low-moderate stability shoe category with a uniquely minimal, customizable upper on top of compressed rubber with traditional medial posts. It offers an "invigorating, no-nonsense feel for both speedwork and long runs", but wouldn't be the reviewer's first choice.
Reviews of this shoe have been mixed—comfortable, but heavy like a platform shoe, and too pricey for some customers.