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In-depth: Just how did Crocs become so cool?

Marcus Jaye
13 May 2021

The Marmite of footwear, the humble Croc has suffered much derision since its inception in 2002. Over 600 million pairs later, its fugly cool has struck the right lockdown note with sales booming. The latest global figures for 2020 reveal an incredible 69 million pairs sold, full year sales of $1.386 billion and a 12.6% revenue increase in 2020 vs 2019. So, how did Crocs get it so right?

When Lyndon “Duke” Hanson, and George Boedecker Jr unveiled their “Beach” classic plastic clog at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in Florida, and sold out the first 200 pairs, little did they know the phenomenon they had just started.

Indestructible and child-like, Crocs holds one patent covering “breathable workshoes and methods for manufacturing such”. The simply moulded EVA foam is perfect for mass production and slipping on and off, moving between outside and inside. Almost an outdoor slipper, it can get wet, is easily cleaned and is affordable and has recently found its way into the hearts of Gen Z and are now officially "cool".

Richard Wharton, footwear veteran and founder of Office & Offspring, says the concept of popular and cool are often confused, and Crocs are riding the wave of a wider clog trend.

Clogs on the catwalk at Hermes SS21

Wharton says: “Crocs ’n’ cool. It’s debatable in some quarters that they are! It’s confusing popular with cool. But, they’ve certainly become more popular off the back of the clog trend from the Birkenstock ‘Boston’ clog , the Louis Vuitton clog with Nigo, Suicoke, Ugg and the classic wooden clogs from Rachel Comey, Hermès etc. which have all had a massive boost through lockdown after the slipper/indoor/outdoor boom. There are some really ‘cool’ clogs out there, which in an ironic way makes Crocs ‘cool’ again.

“They’re comfortable, cheap, very practical, functional. They tick all the boxes except beautiful! But, hey, Doc Martens, Birkenstocks, Uggs, etc... all pig ugly and loved for their comfort and function.”

Justin Bieber's sell-out Crocs

Wharton observes that the footwear market in general is being driven by comfort and sneakers and Crocs have cleverly tapped into it with innovative new designs and collaborations with celebrities including Justin Bieber and brands giants like Disney.

He says: “[Crocs] have been working extremely hard on their designs and the marketing team deserves a pat on the back for polishing that almighty turd. From the Balenciaga, Bape, White Mountaineering and all the rest, well done, but I can’t help but see myself as the young kid looking at the naked emperor parading in front of me in his new crocs with the jingling Jibbitz [accessories that snap into the holes of Crocs enabling wearers to personalise their shoes] hanging off and saying ‘but they are fucking shit Crocs!’”

It’ll have its day in the sun again, and, like all brands, retreat to its core audience, ready to resurge in 10-15 years’ time when another new generation thinks they’re cool,” Wharton concludes.

Wharton is not alone in being unconvinced by Crocs. Style maven and fashion designer Victoria Beckham was recently gifted a pair of Justin Bieber’s sell-out lilac plastic clogs by the singer himself but that wasn’t enough to persuade her to wear them. "Erm, never worn a pair of Crocs, they did make me laugh - it is the thought that counts, thank you so much,” she replied. Such a response is perhaps not surprising given Beckham one claimed she couldn’t concentrate in flat shoes, though she has since admitted her love of heels has taken its toll on her feet.

Victoria Beckham posted a poll on Instagram after receiving a pair of Justin Bieber Crocs

But it’s not necessarily 40-something women that Crocs has been targeting. It has been going after the youth market hard and, cleverly, has opted for a digital first approach since 2015. Thanks to the recent online surge, digital represented 42% of total revenue in FY2020 compared to 31% of total revenue in 2019.

The Crocs brand is no.1 in the “clog category”, a global market said to have grown to $5bn according to L.E.K. Consulting, internal estimates and trade title Footwear News.

Crocs operates 351 stores worldwide, including full-price, outlet, kiosk and store-in-store formats and 42% of revenue came from international sales in over 80 countries.

In October 2006, Crocs purchased accessories manufacturer Jibbitz, and the personalisation of Crocs with Jibbitz has been a major driver of the average selling price while expanding the originality and uniqueness of the Crocs line of products. The Jibbitz audience has ~2x customer lifetime value vs. those customers buying from the clog, sandals and work categories, Crocs has stated, with sales doubling in 2020.

Inspired by a Grateful Dead t-shirt, the Chinatown X Crocs shoes have been seen on the likes of basketball start LeBron James

Shane Rajoo, founder of sneaker raffle site Snkrsaddict is a recent convert to Crocs. “I bought my first pair of crocs in November 2020. A friend of mine had been wearing crocs to work and always bragged about how comfortable they are.

Crocs are really affordable compared to many sneakers and the Yeezy Foam RNNR, as well as being easier to purchase. The comfort of the shoe and ease to match it with any streetwear outfit definitely makes it appeal to the Gen Z consumer.”

The Yeezy Foam RNNR

“I think collaborations with celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Takashi Murakami helped reach the younger ‘hype beast’ audience. Pop stars such as Drake and Pharell have been seen wearing crocs numerous times,” Rajoo says.

“The most popular collaborations have been with Justin Bieber’s clothing line ‘Drew’, the clothing brand Chinatown Market and Post Malone. The Chinatown Market Croc is reselling for over £200 on StockX!

“I definitely think I would raffle one of the more trendy crocs such as the Chinatown Market Croc as there is a huge demand for these collaboration Crocs and only limited pairs available. I feel Crocs are going to continue to gain more hype for the next few years especially from the Gen Z consumer. I can see many more collaborations with brands and celebrities as they have been so successful. Maybe we could even potentially see a potential collaboration with Nike or Supreme in the future!” he says.

Other collaborations include Liberty of London, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Carrots and Rare, with many limited edition styles going for far more than the RRP on resale sites.

Crocs collaborate with Liberty of London in 2020

Selling 69 million plastic pairs of shoes a year comes with some environmental responsibility. To counter this, Crocs has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and is “exploring environmentally-friendly raw materials”. It currently reworks 45% of its Croslite production waste back into its production processes. Over 98% of the Crocs product line is currently vegan with a goal of being a 100% vegan brand by the end of 2021.

In 2020, over 85% of the product was sold without shoe boxes meaning, over the past five years, they’ve been able to save almost 250 million shoe boxes from entering the market. They have also partnered with several organisations to keep unsellable product and samples out of the landfill, with 90,000 pairs of shoes donated in 2020.

Crocs was well placed to capitalise on recent buying changes. Moving into personalisation early, charting a digital first strategy and then blanketing the market with a good mix of collaborations, has powered the brand into the cool sphere of influence amongst Gen Z. Wearing things deemed ugly is often seen as a badge of honour for people to express their confidence and gain attention. The personalisation option also visually resonates well on social media. It’s a very "look-at-me" shoe.

If Crocs could make a fully recyclable plastic shoe and offer a circular collection system to deal with the accusations of disposability and thus make a more sustainable shoe, then Gen Z (if not, perhaps, Victoria Beckham) would be truly sold.

Crocs are affordable, comfortable, easy to buy online and fun, and it is this simple formal that has made them cool right now.

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