The fashion footwear market seems to be faring better than apparel in the current economic downturn, new data shows, while children's footwear has surged ahead in the sales stakes.

According to data from market research firm The NPD Group, fashion footwear sales fell 6.4% in the three months to the end of April, whereas apparel sales slumped 8.6%.

And despite the tough economic climate in the early part of the year, sport leisure and outdoor categories both posted dollar volume growth of 5.8% and 7.9% respectively.

In contrast, however, the value of dress shoe sales tumbled 22.9%.

"When the product is right and offers multiple reasons for wear, the purchases will come," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. 

"Consumers are showing they want footwear and are willing to show their passion on their feet rather than on their backs."

Bright spots were also evident in channel trends, with sporting goods stores and online retailers posting positive results - dollar growth of 10.0% and 24.7% respectively - despite the economy.

While the off price and discount/mass merchants channels did post declines, they were not as deep as some of the other channels or the total fashion footwear market.

"Consumers are changing the way they shop, shopping less overall and shopping less expensively," said Cohen.

"But, at least in footwear, the consumer isn't abandoning shopping altogether." 

The online channel is the clear leader posting double digit growth numbers.

"Consumers are finding the widest selection of product available online coupled with free shipping and the convenience of no parking hassles, it looks like a winning combination," observed Cohen.

Another bright spot for the industry is children's footwear. During the three months ending in April, children's footwear posted an 11.8% dollar volume sales increase. 

"Not only is this double digit growth an incredible accomplishment given the time, it is likely to be a very hopeful sign for our next important retail season, Back-To-School," said Cohen.