In the history of dressing, controversial fashion trends are nothing new. But no footwear has been met with such polarizing response as Crocs. For over 20 years, the clog with Swiss cheese-like holes has garnered legions of both devoted fans and enemies. (Some, like me, have been on both sides.) Those who despise Crocs deem them the ugliest shoe on the planet, while Team Crocs supporters tend to have multiple pairs and wear them proudly, Jibbitz and all. Like them or not, Crocs are an icon of modern fashion. They’re also money makers: In 2022 alone, Crocs, according to the brand, brought in a record-breaking revenue of $2.7 billion. But how exactly did these funny-looking shoes reach those monumental heights?
Crocs: Where it all started
Crocs made its debut to the world in 2002, after co-founders Scott Seamans, Lyndon Hanson, and George Boedbecker Jr. went sailing in Mexico, and Seamens showed his two friends a boating clog he’d been working on with a Canadian company called Foam Creations. The shoewas constructed out of Croslite, a new type of resin that is lightweight and odor-resistant. Despite thinking the shoe was ugly at first, they were sold on its functionality and the ease in which it performed both on land and in water, much like the semi aquatic reptiles that would inspire the brand’s name. (Crocs, get it?)
The clog became the favorite of chefs, gardeners, nurses, and kids, but soon attracted casual wearers, like Jennifer Garner, Oprah, and Michelle Obama. In 2005, Crocs sold 6 million pairs. That same year, a woman named Sheri Schmelzer devised a way to customize her children’s shoes. The result was Jibbitz, or little decorative charms that were placed in the holes of the shoe.Crocs ended up acquiring Jibbitz for $10 million the following year.
Though they were taking the footwear industry by storm, Crocs were still very much perceived as ridiculous shoes. Earlier this year, Idiocracy director Mike Judge revealed that costume designer, Debra McGuire (who also costumed Friends and New Girl), dressed the cast for the 2006 film in Crocs. The reason being that they were inexpensive, “horrible plastic shoes” that nobody in their right mind would buy—perfect for a movie about a dumbed-down dystopian society. It’s unclear if anyone on set had made any Crocs-related bets, because by the time the film came out in 2006, the company was on its way to reach an annual revenue of $354.7 million.
With Crocs, one could argue that there is a clear line between monetary success and coolness; the two are not mutually exclusive. In the mid-2000s, when Crocs was making its first of hundreds of millions of dollars, there weren’t many fashion-conscious 20 or 30-year-olds (then-Millennial and Gen-Xers) wearing them. Aughts-era It girls like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were never papped in Crocs. To me and my kitten-heel-and open-toed-platforms-wearing friends, they were a punchline.
In 2010, TIME magazine named Crocs one of the 50 worst inventions on a list that also included Segways, tanning beds, and asbestos. “I remember when they came out and people were just mad for them, but it was a non-generational embrace,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, director and senior curator at The Bata Shoe Museum, explains to W+G. “They weren’t thought of as the next cool fashion trend exactly, but they were being embraced as a really new, interesting kind of footwear.”
Nowadays, celebs like Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, and Kendall Jenner all wear Crocs. Justin Bieber was most recently meme-ified in his photo with a dressed-up Hailey Bieber (the singer is shown wearing sweats and…you guessed it: Crocs). The brand has also had recent partnerships with both Hilton and Lohan, who, again, were never seen wearing them while club-hopping all around LA 20 years ago. Over on TikTok, the hashtag for #crocs has over 9.6B views.
How did Crocs get cool?
One could say that a series of catalysts led to Crocs being perceived as cool. According to Lucy Thornley, Crocs’ global VP of trend, consumer, design, and product, the shift was two-fold. First, Thornley points to younger consumers gravitating towards Crocs shoes, particularly college students and high schoolers who participated in sports teams or school clubs. “This emerging trend showcased the growing popularity of Crocs as an expressive statement, not just a practical shoe,” she explains.
Secondly is the designer connection. In 2017, Christopher Kane became the first designer to collaborate with the footwear brand, which Thornley calls a “defining moment” in Crocs’ rise to relevance. “Christopher wanted to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary, and in doing so, he shifted the perception of our Classic Clog from practical to fashion-ready,” she explains. “The shift gave people an invitation to boldly express themselves whilst also knowing they could be on-trend and comfortable at the same time.” According to Thornley, this is essentially the allure of Crocs, and earns them repeat customers.
Shortly after the Christopher Kane collab, Balenciaga took the Croc to a higher level, quite literally, by introducing an $850 four-inch platform design. I have to admit, this is when I began seeing Crocs with new eyes, and thought, maybe, just maybe, Crocs could be stylish. Ever since then, Crocs has worked with a flurry of designers and tastemakers, such as Liberty London, Vivienne Tam, Takashi Murakami, Justin Beiber, SZA, Bad Bunny, Post Malone, Diplo, Wu-Tang Clan, and many more. Not to mention the countless brand partnerships, which have included everyone from KFC, MSCHF, Lisa Frank, Barbie, Benefit Cosmetics, Hidden Valley Ranch, General Mills, and Clueless, which was my own personal gateway drug to the Crocs-verse. Semmelhack points to former Versace designer Salehe Bembury’s 2021 collaboration as a major standout. His unique design, which featured a ridged, fingerprint-like pattern is what Semmelhack says “really put Crocs on the cutting-edge fashion map.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Crocs. Like many other companies, it hit a bump in the road during the 2008 recession, but bounced back, until it happened again in 2012, when sales in the overseas markets were lower than expected. The difference between then and now are the collaborations, which Thornley calls instrumental in elevating Crocs’ image. When Bembury’s collab was released, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, another time when Crocs saw a massive boost in sales. According to the NY Times, Crocs’ annual sales shot up 200 percent since 2019. But they weren’t the only “ugly” shoe that saw a rise in sales. Customers sought out more leisurewear, lockdown-friendly fashions, giving Crocs and other comfort shoes like Ugg, Tevas, and Birkenstock a time to shine. It was also the perfect opportunity to convince many former Crocs-haters to finally succumb to the way of the Holey Clog.
Content creator Tina Estrella decided to get her first Crocs, an orange pair, strictly as house shoes. “That’s how it started. This was the gateway drug,” she jokes. “I was like, ‘I’m just gonna wear them around the house.’ And then pretty soon you’re wearing them out to the grocery store, you’re pairing them with dresses.” Once fall came around, Estrella decided to make a Halloween-themed pair, which got a good response from her followers. Then, she made “goth Crocs,” which consisted of a chain, spikes, and spooky Jibbitz, loosely inspired by a meme of a guy wearing spiked black Crocs in line at an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels stand. A video of Estrella’s DIY went viral on TikTok, amassing over half a million views.
@hauntina Rock the croc 🤘🏼⛓ @Crocs #gothcrocs #crocs #gothgoth #alternativegirl #crocsgang #gothicstyle #gothic #elfitup #fyp #alttok #gothtok #darkdecor ♬ Swimming Pool – Marie Madeleine
Marisa Ravel, the owner and creative director of fashion accessories brand Laser Kitten, loves Crocs, though she admits making fun of them when they first came out. “I thought they were the ugliest shoes I had ever seen. My friends and I would send memes about how uncool they were,” she says. Now, Ravel owns three pairs, blinged out with charms that she mostly made herself. One of Ravel’s popular jewelry designs is a pair of bedazzled baby Croc earrings that she fashioned out of keychains. “I love to mix high and low end materials, so I added sparkling rhinestone chains and cubic zirconia and pearl heart studs,” she says. Every time Ravel restocks the Crocs earrings, they immediately sell out.
For Aleigh Michelle, a freelance content creator, Crocs were a “slow burn” that started when her husband, Mark, already a Crocs fan, tried to convince her to get a pair. She resisted until she noticed all of her co-workers at a cafe wore them and subsequently pulled the trigger. “I got the classic white Crocs and never looked back,” she says. “Once I started wearing them to work is when I started to realize everyone was wearing them in many different styles. A close friend of mine had the platform ones and I loved that style so I got myself a pair of those in the cream color.” Now, Michelle wears them to fancy restaurants, the beach, or just hanging around the house, and she and Mark regularly give them as gifts.
The charm factor
Aside from the versatility and comfort, one of the major draws to Crocs are the Jibbitz. Estrella likens collecting the decorative charms to collecting stickers in her youth. Look on Etsy and you’re certain to find any kind of (unofficial) Jibbitz you’ve dreamed of. I have Practical Magic-themed ones that are just waiting to be used on a pair of platform Crocs. There’s also the topic of camp, not in the great outdoors-way (though Crocs are totally great for camping), but in the kitschy, playful way—something that’s more embraced by the youth these days—and Crocs can be seen as a shoe that encompasses that. “I feel like a lot of the younger generation is more willing to have a little bit more self expression, and Crocs are the shoes made for self expression,” says Estrella. “Because they’re so customizable, you can have the same black platform clogs, but depending on the person they can look completely different.”
Don’t be mistaken, there are still plenty of Crocs haters out there. Naomi Campbell, Dua Lipa, and Lil’ Kim are all anti-Crocs (for now). And Zoe Kravitz managed to convince Channing Tatum to stop wearing them. But Crocs do deserve some credit. After all, there aren’t many shoes out there that can invoke vitriol from a naysayer only to eventually win them over. If you are a hater, it might be just a matter of time before a themed Crocs design lures you into getting your first pair. Remember, every time a new collab drops, a hater gets their first pair of Crocs.
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