There are only two types of people in the world: Crocs lovers and Crocs haters.
Every so often, these two camps collide and the results can be explosive. Just this weekend, Balenciaga sent models down the runway in Crocs platform clogs. The 10-inch foam shoes divided the internet, with people on social media showing equal parts disgust and admiration.
Two weeks before, award-winning British designer Christopher Kane, a noted Crocs admirer, sent models down the runway for London Fashion Week in Crocs embellished with rhinestones. He was, in fact, the first major designer to collaborate with the outdoor shoe brand. He also dropped a limited-edition collection of Crocs clogs featuring tiger prints, colorful flower charms, and pom-poms that retailed on the brand’s website for $59.99, nearly double the price of a standard clog.
When asked to defend his aesthetic choices (several fashion bloggers simply asked, “seriously WTF?”), Kane explains, “I love that they are slightly awkward and might be perceived by some as ugly. They have a very naïve and childlike shape, which I especially like when they look extra clunky on the foot.”
Kane’s entire collaboration with the beloved/reviled footwear company has struck the fashion world as some sort of elaborate joke. Haters around the globe began to come out of the woodwork. Glamour said Crocs had filled “this decade’s quota for high-fashion high-fugly footwear.” The Brisbane Times described Crocs, point-blank, as “the ugliest shoes of all time.” A columnist in the Independent beseeched, “Stop trying to make Crocs happen.”
Back at Crocs HQ in Colorado, executives have quietly watched this back and forth unfold. But it is nothing new. The brand is used to being bullied. “We are the brand that people love to hate,” admits Michelle Poole, Croc’s head of global merchandising. “Actually, we value the tension because it keeps us relevant.” She points out that the Christopher Kane collaboration generated 3 billion global media impressions–and much of this was negative press.
The fact is, Crocs shaming works. While some Crocs customers are unapologetic about their love for the synthetic shoe—like Helen Mirren and Whoopi Goldberg—others are more conscious about how they might be perceived.
Take my editor, Anjali Khosla, who has worn Crocs for years. She favors the brand’s understated, feminine designs, like strappy jelly sandals in pastels or gray, that bear no resemblance to the orange clogs that Mario Batali wears. Her appreciation for the brand is so deep that she even convinced her fashion-forward mom—who owns multiple Gucci bags—to give the shoes a try, and now mother and daughter are Crocs wearers for life.
Khosla tells me there’s a secret sisterhood of Crocs-wearing women. It’s clear that Crocs has millions of fans out there, but it’s also true that many are embarrassed about wearing the shoe. “Sometimes you’re walking down the streets of New York and you spot another woman wearing a trendy pair of plastic sandals that most people would not even know are Crocs,” Khosla says. “For a split second, your eyes meet and you smile in acknowledgement.”
Crocs never set out to be a beautiful shoe. When the company launched in 2002 as a new take on the boat shoe, the aesthetic was immediately mocked, but fans loved how comfortable they were. The original clogs are made from a synthetic foam material that is remarkably springy and lightweight, which is why it has been widely embraced by people who are on their feet all day, like cooks, nurses, and doctors. The material has anti-bacterial properties, plus aerating holes all over the toe box, which prevents them from getting gross and grungy when you sweat. The oversized shape is perfect for toddlers whose feet are still growing. “For quite a lot of children, it is the very first shoe they ever put on by themselves,” Poole says.