New L.E.K. Consulting Survey Unpacks the Most Popular Apparel and Footwear Brands for Gen Z Men and Women and other generations

BOSTON, MA (Jun. 1, 2022) – What do Crocs, Columbia, Nike and Dr. Martens have in common? These classic brands are among the top choices for clothing and shoes for Gen Z (people between the ages of 9 and 24), according to a new survey by global strategy consultancy L.E.K. Consulting.

“As Gen Z continues to age into greater spending power coupled with its fashion influence, apparel and footwear brands have focused attention their way – and, with shopping behavior and attitudes varying versus other generations, brands and investors need to better understand their generational preferences to gain an upper hand,” said Laura Brookhiser, L.E.K. Partner and co-author of the survey report. 

L.E.K.’s insights dig into the nuances of Gen Z preferences for footwear and apparel brands – and makes clear which brands are “hot,” and which are not. The findings in 2022 U.S. Footwear and Apparel Brand Heat Index are segmented across generations (including millennials and Gen X) by gender across four categories of use. To assess the relative “hotness” or growth trajectory of each brand, L.E.K. compiled the survey results into a new “brand heat index.” 

So, what are the other hottest apparel and footwear brands for Gen Z?

Athletic category 

In athletic footwear (sneakers, basketball shoes, cleats, etc.), Nike and Brand Jordan dominate. They’re the top two brands for both men and women in Gen Z. Beyond those, Vans, Converse, Adidas, Under Armour, VEJA and On Running are in the top 10 across genders. Filling out the top 10 for women are NOBULL and Tretorn, with PUMA and New Balance for men.

Similar to footwear, Nike dominates athletic apparel (performance tops, athletic shorts, joggers, leggings, etc.), coming in as the top brand for both men and women. lululemon is second for the women’s list (and, interestingly, seventh for men, speaking to the growing dual-gender appeal of that brand). The top ten women’s brands also include upstart brands Gymshark, Fabletics and Sweaty Betty. Adidas, Champion and Supreme are big for both men and women, and startup brands, such as Tracksmith, Western Rise and Vissia, are uniquely popular for men.

Casual category – brand winners across footwear and apparel 

For casual footwear (sandals, slip-ons, casual flats, chukka boots, etc.), Crocs, Dr. Martens, Birkenstock and Timberland are among the top five hottest brands for both Gen Z men and women. The lists split after that, with men preferring established brands like Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger as well as newer ones, like GREATS, Vionic and OluKai. Women also look to some established brands – UGG, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger – as well as sustainability-minded Thousand Fell, with newer brands TKEES and ASOS rounding out the top 10.

Leading the women’s casual apparel (denim, cotton t-shirts, sweaters, khakis, etc.) are online fast fashion brands, including SHEIN, Fashion Nova and PrettyLittleThing, with specialty retail brands Carhartt, Urban Outfitters and ZARA performing well, too. Gen Z women also identify with more affordable brands, such as Forever 21. The men’s list is also topped by SHEIN, but the leading players are more classic brands, with Tommy Hilfiger and Carhartt rounding out the top three. For Gen Z men, other mall-based specialty retailers – UNIQLO and Hollister – join the list. American Eagle, H&M and Hot Topic are popular for men and women.

Outdoor category

When it comes to outdoor footwear (hiking boots, trail shoes, winter boots, etc.), Columbia is highly popular among both men and women. For women, that’s followed by brands present on the men’s list: BEARPAW, Reef, SOREL and Merrell. Teva, Mammut and Arc’teryx are hot for women, but not men, and Eddie Bauer rounds out the top 10. For men, Black Diamond tops the list with Oakley (absent from the women’s list) in second. Also hot for men: CAT Footwear and Helly Hansen.

“In the outdoor footwear segment, our survey revealed a greater range even within the top ten rated brands, signaling there are just handful of brands driving differential growth in consumer appeal and a long tail of others doing well but without as strong consumer interest,” said Jon Weber, L.E.K. Partner and survey report co-author.

For both men and women, the outdoor apparel (hiking clothes, fishing clothes, fleeces, performance jackets, etc.) market is led by stalwart brands The North Force, Patagonia and Columbia. The lists split from here – for women, Fjällräven, Helly Hansen, Norrøna, Rab, Arc’teryx, Freefly and Rossignol finish the top 10. And for men, the list continues with NRS, Snow Peak, Norrøna, AETHER, Oakley, Simms and Black Diamond. 

“Interestingly, Gen Z men – based on the scores they assigned to the top 10 brands – are less engaged or excited by many outdoor apparel brands relative to their Gen X and millennial counterparts,” said Weber.

Dress category

With dress footwear (heels, loafers, oxfords, etc.), Gen Z men are less engaged with the category overall, and mall specialty brands perform strongly, like ALDO. HUGO BOSS tops the men’s list, with Alfani and Cole Haan performing well, and Ferragamo, Stacy Adams, Vince Camuto, Kenneth Cole and Nisolo rounding out the top 10. For women, Calvin Klein and Sam Edelman follow Steve Madden, with other established brands – Michael Kors, Coach, kate spade and Chinese Laundry – behind them. Smaller brands, like Jack Erwin and Franco Sarto, also reach the top 10.

In dress apparel (suits, dresses, etc.), Calvin Klein tops both lists. Wholesale brands, like ASTR the Label and Adrianna Papell, are represented on the women’s list, which also includes Michael Kors, Bardot, kate spade, MM LaFleur, Veronica Beard and Reformation. The men’s dress category finds Ministry of Supply, Banana Republic and Theory performing well, along with Indochino, Marc New York and Zegna.

“Every generation has its own distinct style preferences that can be seen across which brands are trending among each cohort. By understanding which brands are doing the best at reaching and, more importantly, engaging with their targeted consumer segments, other brands, retailers, and investors can devise which strategies are likely to be most impactful for their businesses.,” said Chris Randall, L.E.K. Partner and co-author of the survey report. 

For more information on findings for other generations – millennials and Gen X – please see the full report here.  

About L.E.K.
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