Crocs: The ugly footling
The garish clogs that feel as if you're walking on a sponge, inspire either love or loathing.
They are as ubiquitous as umbrellas on a rainy day. Or ants at a picnic. But they appear in a far more eye-catching array of crayon-box colors. You've seen them on everyone from celebrities to toddlers. They are sold in 90 countries worldwide, at a rate of 60 million pairs a year. If you don't own them yourself, you undoubtedly know someone who does.Skip to next paragraph
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They are Crocs – the ultra trendy footwear reminiscent of an accidental mating between Swiss cheese and a gardening shoe. As their popularity has skyrocketed, Crocs have become the shoe that people either love, or love to hate.
"There's no in between," says Jackie Nelson, a Boulder, Colo., yoga instructor who has three pairs in her closet. "I'm a true Crocs fan, because I wear them despite their ugliness. You can't beat them for comfort." Today, she's paired her stoplight-red Crocs with black capri pants and a fitted white top. Not exactly high-fashion, but still with a nod to style.
For the Nelsons, who moved to Boulder from Austin, Texas, two years ago, Crocs loyalty is a family affair: Her husband wears them, as does her father and her in-laws. Her 14-year-old daughter has three pairs (pink, blue, and purple), and has worn them "everywhere" in the past couple of years, says Ms. Nelson. "To school, to the mall, out to dinner. She's even worn them to church. This is Boulder," she says with a shrug.
Ugly shoes have long held a certain cachet. Think Birkenstocks, Uggs, Earth shoes. But few things are as fickle as fashion. As fads go, surely Crocs should be past their expiration date.
Oscar Wilde once observed: "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." Crocs, however, seem to have cracked the code.
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The company, founded in 2002 in bohemian Boulder by three fishing buddies, exploded into footwear fame around the time that Crocs went public in February 2006, with the largest footwear initial public offering (IPO) in history. A year and a half later, Crocs sales are stronger than ever: In the past year, they've jumped from $108 million to $364 million. And the company's shares have more than quadrupled.
What was originally conceived as a boating shoe – waterproof, with a nonskid sole and ventilation holes – has become, in defiance of all reason, a worldwide sensation. Now available in 30 colors, the $30 clog-style shoe is made of a proprietary resin the company calls "Croslite." The light yet dense material yields a feel that Crocs fans liken to walking on marshmallows.
Foot comfort, apparently, appeals to a broad demographic. Fans include celebrity chef Mario Batali, actor Jack Nicholson, and country-music stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Recently, President Bush was photographed sporting black Crocs, which he paired with black socks and shorts. In nations as diverse as Israel and Iceland, 1 in 4 people own a pair of the shoes.
The Crocs phenomenon is not purely a love-fest, however. Detractors abound, and they aren't diplomatic with their diatribes. On Manolo's Shoe Blog (http://shoeblogs.com/), Crocs are termed "the hot trend in footwear for the lazy person." And on ihatecrocs.com, Vincenzo Ravina and Kate Leth devote an entire website "to the elimination of Crocs and those who think their excuses for wearing them are viable."
Ask Mr. Ravina why he finds Crocs so objectionable, and then take a breath. "They are exceedingly ugly. They are chunky, luridly colored, perforated, and overall, an eyesore," he replies. "They are to your eyes what second-hand smoke is to your lungs."
Ravina, a college student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, scoffs at testaments to the comfort of Crocs. "My bathrobe is comfortable," he says. "But I don't wear it to the supermarket. You have to respect other people's aesthetic."