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Major shoe brands finally address size and gender inclusivity

Heels, pumps, and other ‘feminine’ footwear are often restricted to smaller sizing. But with increased pressure from consumers, the biggest brands on the market are working to include shoe lovers from all walks of life.

Feet are funny things.

Some love them, some really hate them. They’re big and small; wide and narrow, with wonky toes and curious anomalies. Last year, Brits spent almost £10 billion dressing up these strange appendages, squeezing them into the latest heels, trainers, and boots.

Despite its eminence, however, many of us are still denied access to the fruits of the footwear market. Besides the growing cost of high street shoes, the sizes on offer usual align with outdated views on gender.

New sneaker releases – arguably the most sought after and over-hyped of shoes – tend to come in upwards of a size 40, excluding those with smaller feet. While heels and pumps, or anything purportedly worn by a woman, are restricted to a size 39 and under.

Growing pressure from consumers, particularly women with larger feet and men who enjoy wearing ‘feminine’ footwear, has encouraged big-name-brands like Jimmy Choo to adjust their stock for a more diverse customer.

This comes after years of disruption in the shoe market from smaller, independent brands. Juskaite, creator of size-inclusive brand ‘JIIJ’, was encouraged to design larger heels and pumps after she struggled to find stylish footwear that fit her own size 44 feet.

In an interview with W magazine, the designer said that ‘the problem was not that there are no brands doing nice shoes for bigger sizes. The problem was no luxury’.

Juskaite’s statement touches on a larger conversation about how fashion brands see and treat their customers. It might seem like a no-brainer that brands provide shoes in a wide range of sizes. But for years the only place you could find size 42+ heels was a drag store or a fetish website.

Retailers still see more inclusive ranging as a financial gamble. Even in the beauty industry, which has proved to be one of few (semi) recession-proof markets, a staggering number of brands are still failing to cater for a diverse range of skin tones.

Thom Scherdel, a menswear buyer from Browns, has said that the reservation amongst luxury brands when expanding their size range comes down to higher price point fabric and intricate design elements.

While a handful of names like Maison Margiela and JW Anderson are offering size inclusive pieces – like the Tabi heeled boot and unisex chain mules – the push for diverse footwear is mainly stemming from young designers.

New York-based designer Suzanne Rae expanded her eponymous line’s shoe size run in 2019. Due to push back from suppliers, who Rae believes are still too hesitant to take risks and ‘have that conversation’ with their audience, she mostly sells shoes direct to consumer – where the brand has accumulated a growing community of women, men, and non-binary people.

Emma Grede, of Khloe Kardashian’s brand, also told W Magazine that shoes are a category still ‘vastly overlooked [by] inclusive sizing’.

Yet the gender binary is increasingly being questioned, with stars like Ezra Miller, Harry Styles, and Billy Porter using fashion to reject industry standards of masculinity.

Beyond that, our feet are also getting bigger. Women in the US have gone from having an average 7 size shoe to a 9, and 30% of American women wear a 10.5 or above. While most men have larger feet than most women, gone are the days of a definitive cut-off point.

I don’t expect a gender-fluid fashion market to materialise any time soon. But the binary between male and female clothing grows ever blurrier.

Women have been proprietors of the sneaker for decades, yet the most exclusive launches still often target men in their marketing strategies.

Moves by smaller labels are promising. It’s a sign that things are changing, that trans women, men, and those of us who simply have big feet, won’t have to scour the internet for semi-stylish boots and dowdy kitten heels.

Though steps may be small and cautious, the inclusive road less travelled seems to be drawing more foot fall.


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