Crocs are now mainstream footwear, like it or not

The Crocs collaboration with Justin Bieber.
The Crocs collaboration with Justin Bieber.
Image: Crocs
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Five or so years ago, Crocs had a reputation in the US of being footwear for chefs, healthcare workers, and kids—groups who are on their feet all day, often in messy situations, with more pressing concerns than how they look. At the time, previously “uncool” shoes such as Birkenstocks were gaining ground in fashion, but Crocs were generally left out of the running, allowing Scottish designer Christopher Kane to shock critics by sending embellished Crocs down the runway.

That has all changed. In the span of a few years, Crocs have gone from reviled to subversively cool to mainstream. Today it’s routine to see teens casually wearing Crocs out and adults throwing them on to run errands. In the three months ended June 30, the company generated $641 million in sales, more than the $596 million Nike-owned Converse brought in during its most recent quarter. While Crocs sells other footwear such as sandals, its bulbous foam-cushioned clogs are still the bulk of its business.

The result blew past analysts’ predictions and set another record for Crocs, which has seen its sales rise fast this year. In the Americas, its largest market, sales more than doubled this quarter compared to the same period last year. Globally, Crocs’ sales grew 93%, and for the whole of 2021, Crocs now expects sales to be between 60% and 65% higher than in 2020.

How Crocs went mainstream

Crocs is well-positioned for the present moment, both because of actions it has taken and because of broader factors working in its favor. The biggest selling point of its clogs has always been comfort, which shoppers have been making a major priority in their purchases for years now—a trend the pandemic has only bolstered. Consumers in the US and elsewhere also continue to dress more casually overall, which makes Crocs more acceptable in a variety of settings.

The company has also worked to ensure consumers see its shoes in the right places. It has enlisted a string of well-chosen partners including fashion companies like Balenciaga and global celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny, Post Malone, and Diplo to boost its credibility with young shoppers and create excitement around its brand. “They drive social and digital impressions on a global basis and on an enormous scale,” CEO Andrew Rees said about the collaborations during a call with analysts last year. It doesn’t hurt that its brightly colored styles, often accessorized with charms called Jibbitz, pop on social media too.

At this point the shoes aren’t just attracting adults who want to feel good and don’t care so much about looking cool. American teens surveyed biannually by Piper Sandler, an investment bank, are increasingly naming Crocs among their favorite footwear makers, “an indication that teens are turning to Crocs for year-round comfort,” Piper Sandler said in the spring edition of its survey.

That’s a long way from their days hidden in hospitals and kitchens.