Sportswear brands under scrutiny for not producing enough football boots for women say they are investing in women’s-fit styles but argue retailers can be reluctant to stock them due to lack of awareness about the growing business opportunity.
Several key players are missing from the Women’s World Cup with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, including three from England’s Lionesses alone, and there is concern that football boots - which until recently have been almost exclusively designed for men - are a potential factor.
A recent report coordinated by football’s European Club Association found as many as 82% of female players in Europe experience discomfort wearing boots.
“Football brands are making welcome progress on supporting the needs of female football players,” said Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chair of the British Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee. “(But) major retailers give limited recognition to women and girls when it comes to football boots.”
“It is no good investing in research and making boots for female football players if women are unaware of those products or unable to buy them.”
The committee wrote to executives at Adidas, Nike, Puma, Umbro and others on July 3 requesting information about their products for women, asking: “Why are there so few football boots on the market designed specifically for women and girls?”
In responses published earlier this week, manufacturers said they are producing women-only boots, but retailers are often reluctant to stock them as they are not aware of the shoes.
“One hypothesis might be that women have grown up with the notion that the best way to challenge male domination in football (and all spheres of life) is to challenge it head-on and refuse to be seen as any less capable than men, or different to men,” Puma said in its response.
“One way this may have manifested itself is that female players wanted to play and be treated exactly as male players are, with the exact same footwear and in the same colourways.”
“While sporting goods brands have risen to the challenge, meeting the needs of the female consumer also requires our retail partners to recognise the opportunity and to provide access and choice to our female consumers,” Puma said.
Adidas said it takes a gender-neutral approach to football footwear.
“We share your ambition to ensure sport is equal and safe for all – and this is reflected in our design ethos,” said Kathryn Swarbrick, Adidas’ general manager for North Europe.
Armed with our research and insights, we have committed to a more inclusive approach to the design of football boots, that are not tailored to a specific gender’s foot.”
Manufacturers were also queried about the price of boots, since female-specific footwear is often more costly. Nike’s response is they offer the Phantom Luna, “the most comprehensive and researched women’s boot design in Nike’s storied football history,” in both the Elite and more affordable Pro models.
The smaller IDA Sports offers a wide range of women’s boots, saying they have done extensive research into the biomechanical difference between men and women.
“We have scanned 700+ female feet and spoken to around a thousand podiatrists, physiotherapists and players as we developed our unique lasts (the mould of the foot upon which boots are made),” wrote IDA Sports’ CEO Laura Youngson. “In summary: women are not small men.”
Youngson said IDA Sports however have yet to break into one of the major retailers in the UK.
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