It’s official—the defining luxury object of our time is the sneaker

A fall Philo collection from 2012.
A fall Philo collection from 2012.
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The global market for luxury fashion is on fire. Sales have nearly tripled in the past two decades, and since the financial crisis, that growth has been driven by what consultancy Bain & Co. calls a “Chinese shopping frenzy.”

There’s something else that’s new about those shoppers—in China and elsewhere: They’re mostly millennials. Larger in number than any other generation, younger consumers began to shape the direction of the luxury market in 2014, and solidified their power-buyer status in 2015.

So which parts of the world are drawing in the most luxury dollars? The U.S. has traditionally accounted for the majority of sales, but emerging markets—with growing upper- and middle-classes—have started to open their pocketbooks to luxury fashion. Over the last two years, luxury conglomerate LVMH has seen its share of revenue by currency start to tilt away from dollars and toward other currencies.

To reach those younger, international consumers, a luxury brand needs a strong digital presence, one that embraces the mobile and social world the global young live in. It’s where the eyeballs are: In the year ending May 2018, there were 186.1 million visits to luxury brand sites—a growth of 16%.

The defining luxury object for the younger consumer today is the sneaker. With more than five million different models available, there has never been a larger sneaker market. The explosion in popularity of what started as an athletic shoe might make you think everyone’s rushing to the gym. But fashion brands have a different idea—81% of those shoes aren’t meant for sports and activity, according to research firm Edited.