How One of the World’s “Worst Inventions” Became the “It” Shoe Brand to Own
By Gabriel Muñoz
In 2010, Time put out a list of their “50 Worst Inventions,” including products and services ranging “from zany to dangerous to the just plain dumb…some of the world’s bright ideas that just didn’t work.” The only shoe to make the list was Crocs, a brand started in 2002 that the company itself admitted was “different and made some people uncomfortable.”
Fast forward to 2020, Crocs continues to be one of the most recognizable shoe brands in the world and reached record-high revenues of $1.4 billion, a 12.6% increase from the previous year. Thanks in large part to the pandemic, consumers have leaned into “comfort” more than ever before.
Back in 2016, the brand realized that instead of trying to win over consumers that “hated” their product, they instead shifted their focus on what made the Crocs shoe so unique. According to Heidi Cooley, Crocs Chief Marketing Officer, “Yes we’re ugly; yes, we’re polarizing. But importantly we’re one-of-a-kind. And what we recognized is that this is exactly what resonated with some of our fans: They too see themselves as one-of-a-kind.”
CROCS COME INTO FOCUS
Beginning in 2017, Crocs began partnering with designers. In its first designer collaboration, Crocs worked with Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane. The partnership priced the shoes at $350 a pair and was “marble-patterned” with stone embellishments. They eventually sold out. In October 2017, luxury fashion house Balenciaga debuted a pair of platform Crocs during Paris Fashion Week that “caused an uproar on social media.” Priced at $850, the Crocs sold out online before they even became officially available.
Soon after, Crocs began partnering with celebrities. In 2018, Drew Berrymore released a pair of Crocs that reflected her life values, including “love, positivity and the little quirk…that make each of us unique.” This successful celebrity partnership began what has continued to be a prosperous venture for the shoe brand. The partnerships have continued to increase and grow in popularity. Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Bad Bunny, Luke Combs, Diplo and Ruby Rose (to name a few) have all seen their visions and personalities come to life on a Croc. In one of their most talked-about collaborations, Crocs partnered with KFC which featured “a fried chicken pattern and…drumstick-scented Jibbitz charms attached to the top.”
With all of the partnerships coming one after another, some speculated about whether or not the shoe was becoming too much of a fashion statement. According to Lauren Bitar, analytics firm RetailNext’s head of insights, “You don’t want your customers to be wearing your shoes ironically. Otherwise, they will go the way of the Christmas sweater, which is not what you want as a brand.” However, the brand doesn’t seem to be too concerned about this. “What connects our fans is that they’re inclusive. They see themselves regardless of whether they’re wearing KFC…or whether they’re in Shanghai or Colorado–as individuals who are bold, confident, and willing to express themselves,” said Cooley. “…Our shoe is still polarizing, it takes courage to raise your hand and wear Crocs, so they have this unified acceptance of each other.”
Even with differing opinions on if this is the best strategy for the brand, Crocs has seen a continual uptick in sales since 2018, with revenues increasing by 6% and 13% in 2019. In 2020 and thanks greatly to the pandemic, Crocs became the “it” shoe and “a closet staple for consumers seeking comfort during their more casual…lifestyle.” That same year, Priyanka Chopra was announced as the global ambassador for the brand. In December 2020, she presented the brand with the Brand of the Year award at the Footwear News Awards wearing a custom pair of glitter Crocs. This would eventually lead to the demand for Crocs going up by 210% in April 2021 according to The Sole Supplier’s data.
THE FUTURE OF CROCS
In its most recent collaboration launching on December 14th, Crocs is straying away from its classic clog mold for the very first time. Designed by famed shoe designer Salehe Bembury from Yeezy, Versace and New Balance, this new Croc line “features an expressive, undulating texture, along with a full heel and a subtly tailored front toe.”
Outside of creating unique partnerships, Crocs is moving into 2022 with a new initiative on its mind: sustainability. With an initial goal of becoming net-zero-carbon by 2030, the brand is “remaking its shoes with a new bio-based material” which will debut in 2022. The new material will utilize Ecolibrium technology, which is “built with hydrocarbons extracted from renewable resources and waste products, rather than natural gases, forming what the company says is a carbon-negative process…”
While Crocs are more popular than ever, the brand still believes it has work to do to change the narrative surrounding its controversial clog. “There is still a lot of negative sentiment around our brand, which we [would] love to capitalize on. That’s what’s going to keep the conversation going for us.” It seems as though the demand for the “world’s ugliest shoe” will only continue to grow.