New footwear data trends published today show that the biggest growth is in athletic shoe categories with more of a 'fashion focus.'

2006 sales results for athletic footwear released by retail information provider The NPD Group Inc find that low performance footwear, the type of athletic footwear designed to emphasise fashion and comfort, has now become the second largest athletic shoe category.

In the $19.4bn athletic footwear market, this means sales of $4.8bn, putting it just behind running shoes at $4.9bn.

"There is a clear shift by consumers from casual athletic shoes to fashion designs for casual," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst.

"Athletic footwear retailers and manufacturers need to take a careful look at this trend and focus on what consumers are asking for. A huge part of the athletic footwear market is not comprised of hard core users.

"Athletic footwear is a significant portion of the overall footwear market, and there's a shift in what consumers want in their active footwear.

"Consumers are telling us that style and comfort, not performance, are the keys here."

In a recent survey, consumers told NPD that comfort is the primary influence on their athletic footwear purchases. Price and "a fashionable look" placed second and third as purchase influencers.

Cohen points to the Skate category as another example of the fashion and comfort trend driving sales.

"While skate-inspired footwear still represents a small market ($800m of the $19.4bn total athletic footwear market), its growth can't be ignored. And it's not. Brands as well as retailers are re-orienting their focus on this market.

"Some have even moved toward this fashion trend and vacated other athletic footwear categories.