MILLBURN, N.J. (Stockpickr) -- I cut my teeth in the business world while working in the garment district during my college summers. Required reading for the industry was the bible of fashion, Women's Wear Daily. Needless to say, you learned about fashion, head to toe.

Right now, it's the toe coverings -- shoes -- that are one of the hottest segments of the consumer market. I this issue of The Finance Professor I want to look "down" at the shoe industry with admiration. If you associate shoes with Imelda Marcos' collection or Carrie Bradshaw's closet full of Manolo Blahniks on Sex and the City, then you might see shoes as a luxury item. Or you might remember Abebe Bilkila, who won the 1960 men's Olympic marathon gold medal in bare feet, and wonder if shoes are even necessary.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We need shoes. In fact, they are considered a staple. Shoes wear out faster and are less easily repaired than other items of closing. Kids grow quickly, growing out of their shoes all along the way. On the fashion end, shoe color, style and brand preferences can change with the wind.

The bottom line is that shoe-related stocks can be both defensive in slow economic times and growth-oriented during stronger economic times.

The said, how can you invest and make money in shoes? Here are some styles for you to try on for size.

Nike ( NKE - Get Report): Nike one of the largest and most recognizable sneaker and sporting apparel brands in the world. Nike found early success as athletic footwear company and leveraged its fame with shoes such as the Air Jordan, first released in the mid-'80s. Over the years, it has branched out, including with its purchase of the Cole Haan brand of men's and women's dress and casual shoes.

Nike recently reported a good quarter, though when you dig down, the results were mixed, with strength out of North America and China and weakness out of Japan and Central/Eastern Europe. Margin expansion occurred pretty much across the board. Results were somewhat offset by the impact of currency translation. Nike remains the largest and best-run company in the athletic apparel and footwear sector.
Who Owns Nike?

Steve Madden ( SHOO - Get Report): Steve Madden makes women's, men's and kid's shoes for all occasions and seasons, as well as handbags and accessories -- after all, they must match your shoes. It also licenses its name to manufacturers of other products. The company will sell its products through its own branded stores, other retail stores, on its own Web site and through other e-commerce portals such as Zappos, recently purchased by Amazon ( AMZN), and Overstock.com ( OSTK). Steve Madden recently split its stock on a 3-for-2 basis. I own SHOO stock and believe that it can appreciate to a level of $45 to $50

Skechers ( SKX - Get Report): Sketchers is a trendy sneaker and casual wear manufacturer. The company was founded by the same family behind the LA Gear shoe company. Skechers originally tried to focus on the skateboarders, hikers and X-gamers, but it eventually went a little more mainstream and now tries to attract the pop music crowd listeners. Skechers' customers tend to be younger, with less disposable income.

Skechers has some potential for further price appreciation. In addition, the company has nearly $6 per share in cash and equivalents net of debt on its balance sheet.

Heely's ( HLYS) and Crocs ( CROX): I would classify both of these as fad brands. Heely's, known for its roller sneakers, came public to great fanfare at the end of 2006 at $21 per share. It opened trading that day at $30.30, rose about another 20% in the subsequent few weeks in 2007 and then began a precipitous fall. The stock now sells for around $2.75. After posting a profit in 2007, the company has lost money ever since and is likely to so again in 2010.

Crocs, which manufactures rubberized casual shoes, has a similar history to that of Heely's. The company launched its IPO at $21 in February 2006, opened for trading at $30, peaked in 2007 at more than $70 per share, fell to as low as nearly $1 in the first quarter of 2007 and now sells for just over $10 per share. Crocs lost money in 2008 and 2009 and is to turn itself around by introducing more styles and diversifying its product offerings. Crocs will likely generate a profit in 2010.

Deckers Outdoor ( DECK): When my daughters wanted Uggs, I had to check out what they were. They struck me as the ugliest boots I'd ever seen, and I assume th's where the name Uggs had come from: ugly. But the product became hot and has remained popular with high school and college-aged women. Deckers also produces other casual footwear lines, such as Teva sandals and beach shoes. Deckers continues to grow at a low double-digit rate. Despite the monstrous move in the stock, Deckers has potential to move higher.

DSW ( DSW): Know by some as Designer Show Warehouse, DSW does not manufacture shoes but is one of the largest publically traded independent specialty shoe retailers, selling many of the brands that I've referenced in this article. .DSW has nearly $6.50 per share in cash and equivalents, with no debt. I would look to get this stock below $30 if possible before starting a position.

-- Written by Scott Rothbort in Millburn, N.J.

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At the time of publication, Rothbort was long SHOO, although positions can change at any time.

Scott Rothbort has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. He is the Founder and President of LakeView Asset Management, a registered investment advisor specializing in customized separate account management for high net worth individuals. In addition, he is the founder of TheFinanceProfessor.com, an educational social networking site; and, publisher of The LakeView Restaurant & Food Chain Report. Rothbort is also a Term Professor of Finance at Seton Hall University's Stillman School of Business, where he teaches courses in finance and economics. He is the Chief Market Strategist for The Stillman School of Business and the co-supervisor of the Center for Securities Trading and Analysis.

Mr. Rothbort is a regular contributor to TheStreet.com's RealMoney Silver website and has frequently appeared as a professional guest on Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg Television, Fox Business Network, CNBC Television, TheStreet.com TV and local television. As an expert in the field of derivatives and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), he frequently speaks at industry conferences. He is an ETF advisory board member for the Information Management Network, a global organizer of institutional finance and investment conferences. In addition, he is widely quoted in interviews in the printed press and on the internet.

Mr. Rothbort founded LakeView Asset Management in 2002. Prior to that, since 1991, he worked at Merrill Lynch, where he held a wide variety of senior-level management positions, including Business Director for the Global Equity Derivative Department, Global Director for Equity Swaps Trading and Risk Management, and Director for secured funding and collateral management for the Global Capital Markets Group and Corporate Treasury. Prior to working at Merrill Lynch, within the financial services industry, he worked for County Nat West Securities and Morgan Stanley, where he had international assignments in Tokyo, Hong Kong and London. He began his career working at Price Waterhouse from 1982 to 1984.

Mr. Rothbort received an M.B.A., majoring in Finance and International Business from the Stern School of Business, New York University, in 1992, and a B.Sc. in Economics, majoring in Accounting, from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, in 1982. He is also a graduate of the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Mr. Rothbort is married to Layni Horowitz Rothbort, a real estate attorney, and together they have five children.