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Andrew Thompson on... the ubiquity of ugly footwear

Andrew Thompson
28 October 2021

Personally, I have always had a penchant for ugly footwear, albeit distrustful of nebulous or bland design, and would rather opt for something functional as well as comfortable. As a kid, in my formative years, I rocked Clarks Wallabees and an array of 90's bulky sneakers including Northwaves and Nike Air Monarchs. Maybe this was because there were early stirrings of inner turmoil, fighting off anything that stifled creativity.

I am intrigued by ugly shoe trends although this is subjective, it’s not specific to a particular style ranging from ugly/dad sneakers, chunky loafers, socks & sandals, clogs to bulbous foam sandals and boots. Fashion's new obsession with weird and wonderful footwear might possibly be a timely backlash against homogenisation. There is even an @uglydesign Instagram with a huge fan base of 687k dedicated to sourcing unconventional product – unobtrusive, honest and bad taste. The founders Jonas Nyffenegger & Sébastien Mathys told I-D magazine: "Slowly we started to see a lot of nuances in this ugly aesthetic, and we no longer consider ugly as negative or pejorative.”

Perhaps we are becoming immune to novelty or indifferent because newness is so frequent. There are a few brands to mention that reach the perfect equilibrium of noise and connection within this space. Whether you love or hate them, Crocs are definitely having a moment. I am not ashamed to say I am riding the Croc wave, they have my vote, recently announcing ingredients for products and packaging materials goal to be a 100% vegan by the end of 2021.

Crocs X Balenciaga

It's hard to believe the origins of Crocs begun as a practical nautical shoe. Additionally, widely worn by chefs, nurses and other practitioners as a versatile, comfortable staple. Who would have thought that Crocs would propel its self to be the "coolest uncool" footwear brand of our time. Crocs said it plans to achieve $5 billion in sales by 2026, which would represent an annual growth rate higher than 17%, with 2021 being the base year - as reported in Footwear News.

Having collaborated with the likes of Balenciaga, Pleasures, Palace, Sankuanz as well as launching numerous celebrity endorsements with Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny, PostMalone and Diplo. Each endorsement has carried its own story embodied with clear representation of lifestyle and culture, they show no sign of slowing down with a recent launch with designer of the year Salehe Bembury. I am definitely on Croc watch to see what lands next.

Imagine if there was footwear that shared the same aesthetic as Crocs, starting out environmentally friendly and designed by a global iconic star. Yes I am talking about the polarising YEEZY Foam Runner, which was Kanye West's attempt to bring to market cool Crocs two years ago. As much as this style may not conform or appeal to many, it's a holy grail favourite to tastemaker and aficionados and well sought-after, fetching eye-watering prices in the resale market.

Tods X Hender Scheme

As many of us know originality doesn't stem from following the herd. Conversely brands of all kinds have honed in on the idea of an artisanal narrative highlighting the over use of labelling things as authentic. Most recently Hender Scheme one of the worlds most influential fashion footwear brands and Tods and iconic luxury Italian house have collaborated. Ryo Kashiwazaki, Hender Scheme's founder has blended the contemporary vision of Hender Scheme with Tod’s history.  My favourite piece is the twist on Tod's classic loafer with outsized bubbly outsoles and dotted grips, reinterpreting a play on pebbles.

We are also seeing creatives such as Beate Karlsson a conceptual designer and creative director of conscious fashion label Avavav. She creates signature sculptural clay, rubber, silicone and latex accessories. She has captured this distinct perspective of characterised footwear based on this new obsession.

Avavav, Firenze

I think cultural cross pollination evolves thinking and the same could be said about design. Could people be experiencing "perfection fatigue" de-prioritising faster fashion? Maybe a new mindset along with a less tailored approach to everyday being? What’s your honest and unaffected footwear guilty pleasure?

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is a thought leader with over twenty years’ experience as a footwear Trend Forecaster and Design Director having worked with brands such as Vans USA, Kurt Geiger, Topman, Nicole Fahri and Clarks International to name a few. His is also founder of global consultancy Fablefootworks.


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