The Crocs Phenomenon
Created | Updated Jan 3, 2008
Rarely has an item of apparel so divided the public into lovers and haters, but this seemingly innocuous and childish footwear does exactly that. It is a bit like Marmite in that respect - you either love it or hate it, but there is no middle ground.
What Are They?
Crocs are a pair of shoes1. They are made of resin, which means they are sturdy but still flexible and extremely light, and can be made in a wide variety of colours. They have slip-resistant soles and are laced with anti-bacterial and anti-odour elements added as part of the resin compound which are claimed to keep feet smelling fresh. On the sole inside are little lumpy beads for comfort and circulatory stimulation. The most popular styles have holes on the top, which let in and out water, sand, dirt, etc, and a heel strap which can either be folded forwards over the foot for a true clog style, or backwards around the ankle to provide a bit more cling.
Where Did They Come From?
Crocs started life at sea as a deck shoe - hence the holes and the non-slip soles. Their genesis is a business fairytale: in July, 2002 three men on a Caribbean sailing trip fantasised about a pair of shoes that was slip-proof, waterproof, comfortable, fun, smell-free and didn't leave marks. So they decided to make them. Following their initial success with boat users, Crocs were adopted by hospital workers because they could be easily sterilised, and by those in the catering industry and other professions who were on their feet all day because of their comfort. Crocs' rise to fame was somewhat meteoric, relying as it did on word of mouth alone in the early days. By 2007 they were a fashion craze and their presence on the high street became ubiquitous.
Why Are They Popular?
While Crocs' very vocal detractors will say that their popularity is purely fashion-led, their supporters will give long and tedious lists of situations where Crocs are better than any other type of shoe. These include:
- Camping2 - ideal for slipping on in the dark with no fiddly laces or buckles to do, and schlepping to the loo across a damp field in the middle of the night.
- Boating - easy to get on and off with wet feet, and don't have that annoying sound that flip-flops3 make. And no irritating toe-post!
- Seaside - perfect for paddling, especially where the ground is likely to be stony or contain jagged edges from broken glass and so forth. The ventilation holes keep them airy even in hot temperatures. See above for why they score better than flip-flops on a beach holiday.
- Dog-walking - any risk of inadvertently treading in excrement can be removed and the shoe sterilised in a mild bleach solution without any damage. They also stand up to being chewed more than other footwear, and the canine grapevine suggests that the left one is more tasty.
- As an alternative to house-slippers - their comfort level makes them very attractive after a day spent teetering around in high heels, and they are more practical than a pair of pink fluffy mules or a pair of tartan carpet slippers that get smelly and go to pieces4 in the face of sudden floods, coal dust, or a spilt bowl of cereal. In addition, the fact that they can easily be sterilised is a feature much appreciated by verucca sufferers.
- For children - they are very easy to put on and so are ideal for toddlers going through their independent phase, where they don't want help with anything.
The Case Against
There is an extremely vociferous 'I hate Crocs' brigade, with their own website and various groups on other online networking sites. They revel in videos of Crocs being burned or shredded with scissors.
'Crocs are about as un-rock as it's possible to be. Almost anti-rock. Anti-rock Crocs. They could only be made less rock with the addition of socks. Anti-rock Crocs with socks.'
The main objections are the variety of hideous dayglo colours, the clumpy ugliness of the shoes, the fact that they're just a fashion fad, and the danger they are said to pose on escalators and in hospitals (see below).
There are, of course, retorts to these criticisms. Firstly, the wide variety of colours gives a large element of choice to the consumer, and they do come in sombre black, brown, navy blue and similar colours for more conservative wearers. As for Crocs being pitbull ugly - while men will most probably shun them and continue to wear comfortable shoes and trainers, women who follow fashion advice are known to opt for painful high heels and anorexic size zero diets to go with the Dolce and Gabanna collection without which they cannot stray from their door. To quote one Researcher: the hell with style - it only gives you blisters.
On the safety aspect, press coverage has suggested that Crocs may be dangerous in hospitals as needles or infected fluids could fall through the holes. However, the style favoured by and aimed at hospital staff has a solid top with no holes5, although these are quite similar to the standard footwear worn by operating theatre staff. Some hospitals are concerned by the static electricity that can build up from them, but the accusation is far from proven. Other newspaper articles have criticised the chances of the soft soles getting caught in escalators, but comparison with statistics on similar accidents involving flip-flops, baggy trousers and scarves is left unexplored.
A Business Phenomenon
From a business perspective, the company achieved remarkable sales increases in a very short space of time, and they cleverly moved upstream and downstream to control both the manufacture and the speed of supply in order to retain their influence on the product. A subsidiary business came in the form of Jibbitz, little items of jewellery designed to fit the holes in Crocs, typically in hippy patterns such as flowers or peace signs6. The fashion industry is now watching to see whether the whole Croc market really is just a one-shoe wonder or if this is a product with legs.