Zappos isn’t just talking the talk — the company has decided to walk the walk by introducing single shoes and mixed-size pairs to its online offerings. The shoe and clothing retailer, owned by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), launched the pilot program under its Adaptive section earlier this month in an effort to make footwear more inclusive of customers who wear prosthetics or have different sized feet. 

“The Single and Different Size Shoes Test Program is very close to our hearts – we wanted our community to know that we heard them, and continue to listen and innovate based on their needs and wants,” Dana Zumbo, a business development manager for Zappos Adaptive, said in a press release.

Zappos will offer single shoes for half the price of the pair. And though the initiative was kickstarted with a limited group of brands and styles, including Nike (NYSE:NKE), Stride Rite, and New Balance, it is thought to be just the beginning of a new trend in the footwear space. According to Coresight Research, adaptive apparel, or clothing and footwear that meets the needs of individuals with disabilities, is an underserved market with great promise — the research firm predicts the U.S. market will grow to $54.8 billion by 2023.

The U.S. adaptive apparel market was already worth $47.3 billion in 2019, or as Coresight Research puts it, $47.3 billion of “largely untapped potential.” As conversations about inclusion continue to become more commonplace, Zappos’ move just makes sense (and is long overdue). More than 40 million Americans have a disability, and Zumbo noted Zappos has received requests for single or mix-sized shoes for years. 

Yet long overdue is many brands’ M.O. Big-name retailers that offer adaptive apparel — or simply cater to an audience other than able-bodied white people — are few and far between. Target and Kohl’s carry clothing with magnetic and zipper closures as well as seamless and tag-free fabric for children and young adults with disabilities and sensory-processing sensitivities. Other brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Lands’ End carry adaptive clothing more so targeted at adults. You can find post-operation and limited-mobility clothing on Etsy, too. But  those who might not have easy access to major retailers or can’t afford a $90 handmade top from Etsy might still find themselves at a loss. 

Apparel brands can learn a lot from Zappos’ most recent initiative, as well as its track history of expanding inclusive apparel. The company began selling clothing designed for customers with autism in 2017 and created an advisory committee of people with disabilities as well as experts and stylists with experience in adaptive fashion, according to Vogue Business.

Although some of the brands included in The Single and Different Size Shoes Test Program don’t seem to be making tidal waves on social media since the announcement, they're gaining a competitive edge and setting the stage for greater inclusion, from marketing to actual product offerings.

After all, Google research shows that consumers are more likely to consider — or, even better, purchase — a product if it’s promoted in a diverse or inclusive advertisement. The desire to see diversity spans beyond ads, though. The demand for products, brand identities, and company cultures that speak to consumers from all walks of life is only growing, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. In fact, a Gen Zer will likely notice if a brand advertises diversity but doesn’t practice what it preaches in hiring practices

Now is the time for brands to take note and make inclusion across the board a top priority. 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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