L.E.K. Consulting’s Brand Heat Index Ranks the Most Popular Brands for U.S. Consumers Based on Growth Trajectory

BOSTON, MA (Mar. 12, 2024) – Global strategy consultancy L.E.K. Consulting has released its third annual Brand Heat Index, revealing which brands are gaining in popularity – or, increasing their brand “heat” – across major product categories in women’s and men’s footwear and apparel.

While many of the top brands from last year, like HEYDUDE, Nike, SHEIN and Carhartt, continue to lead in their categories, the 2024 rankings show that some legacy brands are feeling the heat from relative newcomers. For example, On remains on top in women’s athletic footwear after initially surpassing Nike last year – with HOKA not far behind – while lululemon is closing the gap with Nike in women’s athletic apparel.

The shake-up isn’t just in the athletic space, as Reformation has now replaced Michael Kors as the top brand in women’s dress apparel and SKIMS is moving in on SHEIN for the top spot in women’s casual clothing, with SHEIN also dropping to third in men’s casual clothing.

“This year’s results continue to demonstrate the relevance of newcomer brands, as many brands across the top 10 lists were not household names 10 or even five years ago – and now they’re nearing or even out-pacing the heat of some of the historically most-powerful brands in the industry. That represents a major change in the competitive landscape,” said Jon Weber, L.E.K. Managing Director and co-author of the 2024 U.S. Footwear and Apparel Brand Heat Index.

L.E.K. surveyed nearly 4,000 U.S. consumers between the ages of 14 and 55 to develop its 2024 Brand Heat Index. Within product categories and generational cohorts, each brand earns a heat score on a scale of 0-100 – the higher the score, the hotter the brand. About 450 brands were tested in this year’s survey to understand their popularity and the key factors behind it. The survey gathers feedback on brands across four product categories: athletic, casual, outdoor/rugged and dress.

In footwear, the competition in 2024 has become increasingly fierce, with brand heat scores tightly packed among the leading brands, even in categories where legacy players have historically been dominant. Some leaders show consistent strength across genders – HEYDUDE is still the hottest casual footwear brand for both men and women, while Nike and Steve Madden are top-two footwear brands across genders for athletic and dress, respectively.

Crocs remains a major force in casual footwear, coming in second place for women and third for men. UGG took another step up in both the casual and outdoor/rugged rankings – for women, it’s first in outdoor/rugged and third in casual, while it is fifth and seventh for men’s outdoor/rugged and casual, respectively.

In general, women tend to be more excited about emerging footwear brands, with On, HOKA, VEJA, Schutz and others performing more strongly among women than men.

“Consumers continue to demand a lot from their footwear and apparel brands. Our research continues to point to brand appeal as the top affinity driver in consumers’ minds. Appeal exceeds style and is much more important than factors like comfort, quality and value. That suggests brands should strive for true affinity and brand engagement above the product itself,” said Laura Brookhiser, L.E.K. Managing Director and survey report co-author.

In apparel, the usual suspects in fast fashion – SHEIN and Fashion Nova – still dominate casual clothing, though other fast fashion brands are climbing the women’s rankings, including Princess Polly and Cider. Social media and digital marketing have helped catalyze these brands’ rise, prompting others to develop similar strategies to appeal to younger generations. Also in the casual category, workwear brands such as Carhartt (first for men’s casual and third for women’s) have sustained popularity, while the outdoor apparel category has seen an increasing number of specialized, technical brands reach the top 10, including Ariat across genders and Huk, Salt Life and PELAGIC for men.

The apparel rankings, similar to footwear, point to a few clothing brands that are consistently strong performers across genders and generations. For example, Nike is the top athletic apparel brand for both men and women, while The North Face, Columbia and Patagonia make up the top three in both women’s and men’s outdoor apparel. Casual and dress apparel show more brand variation across genders, but SHEIN, Carhartt, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein exhibit broad appeal.

“There can be material variations in how different generations and genders perceive any given brand. It’s critical for brands to understand where these differences lie, in order to develop the strategies required to maximize strengths and address weaknesses,” said Chris Randall, L.E.K. Managing Director and survey report co-author.

For the full sets of footwear and apparel brand rankings by generation, gender and product category – including athletic, casual, dress and outdoor/rugged – please see the 2024 U.S. Footwear and Apparel Brand Heat Index.

About L.E.K. Consulting
We’re L.E.K. Consulting, a global strategy consultancy working with business leaders to seize competitive advantage and amplify growth. Our insights are catalysts that reshape the trajectory of our clients’ businesses, uncovering opportunities and empowering them to master their moments of truth. Since 1983, our worldwide practice — spanning the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe — has guided leaders across all industries, from global corporations to emerging entrepreneurial businesses and private equity investors. Looking for more? Visit www.lek.com.