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Why sneaker companies are ditching 'shrink it and pink it' for women's kicks

During Nike’s latest earnings call on March 21, president and CEO Mark Parker and CFO Andrew Campion touched on overseas growth, expansion opportunities, mobile apps, and its e-commerce push. But another theme recurred throughout the call: Nike’s renewed focus on the women’s market.

According to Parker, Nike’s women’s business is over-indexing its men’s. “We see ... tremendous opportunity moving forward. We are under indexed in terms of our percentage of business in the women's area … So the upside there, particularly with the consumer or the market being bigger than the men's, is tremendous,” Parker said.

Nike’s subsidiary Jordan brand, in particular, has seen a boost in women’s sales, growing strong double-digits in the third quarter.

“We see women embracing the sneaker culture more and more every day, so we're scaling up popular models and creating new models for women's specifically,” Parker said.

Nike CEO Mark Parker speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Catering to female sneaker fans isn’t just a Nike thing. Brands across the spectrum are seeing a growth in women’s sales. According to Matt Powell of NPD Group, U.S. of women’s athletic footwear grew in the high single digits in 2018.

GOAT Group, a major online sneaker marketplace, told Yahoo Finance that its female user base has been growing at twice the rate of that of males. One of the biggest problem for many women looking for sneakers is knowing the proper men-to-women size conversions, Jasmin Miller, communications manager at GOAT and Flight Club, told Yahoo Finance. “GOAT is not only introducing more sneakers for women but more importantly, implementing size conversions on all sneakers, so they know exactly what size to buy for the same fit and feel as their women’s styles,” she said.

Stepping up their game

Despite sneakers’ increasing popularity among women, the kicks landscape still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to accessible product. “Men have been designing and marketing sneakers to women for years. The go-to for these designs was ‘shrink it and pink it.’ There are few issues with this, but I only choose two,” Washington D.C.-based sneaker vlogger Sole De Vida told Yahoo Finance. “Men and women’s feet are anatomically different, so shrinking of designs only lead to ill-fitting shoes for women, which leads to a lack of sales. And secondly, I shouldn’t have to say this, but not all women like pink,” she said.

However, De Vida is encouraged by changes in the industry. “Companies have been bringing us more innovative and attractive designs. So long outdated masculine designs. Today, women have more sneaker options and more women are increasingly choosing comfort,” she said.

Nike’s Parker stressed the company’s efforts to better tailor to women’s wants and needs. “This is a huge priority, editing and shifting the resources we have internally to serve women more completely …The conclusion is there is an under-indexed opportunity for us at this point, a huge opportunity for us going forward as we shift focus,” he said.

Susan Boyle, owner of the Brooklyn-based sneaker boutique Rime, has taken notice.

"Nike has been talking more right now about 'her' and giving us better products and the fact that they're giving us things that are size inclusive is a really strong thing ... We've come a long way from not being able to do a collaboration to now being able to design a Nike shoe," she said.

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 8: Riley Morrison high-fives Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors prior to the game against the Denver Nuggets on March 8, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Under Armour has also stepped up its women’s game — especially after 9 year-old- Riley Morrison wrote a letter to its signature athlete Stephen Curry asking why his Curry 5 sneakers only came in “boys” sizes. The Golden State Warriors’ star wrote Morrison back, saying that he and Under Armour would correct this — and they did. Now Curry’s signature line comes in both male and female sizes. On March 8, International Women's Day, Under Armour launched the ICON Curry 6 "United We Win." The shoe features a special sole insert, designed by Morrison, which features phrases like “Girl Power,” “Play with Heart,” and “Girls Hoop Too.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade

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