In praise of the Croc


In praise of the Croc

In terms of design, everything about the ‘ugly shoe' is well thought out and groundbreaking. So, where does its unlovely reputation come from? asks LAUREEN ROSSOUW.


THEY look like old people's shoes. Or whales.

They're practical for people who spend a lot of time on their feet, such as nurses and chefs. Or for people who have lost all hope in life. If you wear Crocs you get labelled, just like the farmers who buy those two-tone shirts at the co-op.

The artist Henk Serfontein tells of how he attended one of the first South African appearances of the famous trend forecaster Li Edelkoort in Woodstock. A style narcissus had stripped the place and transformed it into an industrial space for the prophetess. They were eating chicory bites with cream cheese and pecans when Edelkoort showed up — wearing Crocs.

“I was horrified," he says. “Firstly, about her shoes, and then about the R1,000 I had to pay for the ticket to attend the talk. The whole Li Edelkoort kingdom collapsed for me at that moment."

So where does Crocs' reputation as “the ugly shoe" come from?

From the herd, of course. When the ignoramuses started saying so, others followed like sheep, and from there it was downhill for this unique shoe.

What is it that supposedly makes Crocs so ugly?

They actually look a lot like the popular Swedish Scholl clogs from the 1970s that the hippies and post-hippies wore with miniskirts and hotpants. And those platforms, unlike Crocs' lightweight plastic, were made of wood — you could hear them coming from far away, sounding like a hoofed animal.

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As far as design is concerned, everything about the Croc is thoughtful and groundbreaking.

It was developed in 2002 as a boating shoe and made from an innovative foam material, Croslite. The 13 holes are for ventilation and to prevent sweaty feet. Instead of people applauding the eco-friendly shoe with its shrinking carbon footprint, they criticise its looks.

Who wants to be daring and sensual when the moment requires them to be comfortable and self-assured?

Like when I, as a Camino pilgrim, could kick off my Salomons after a hard day of walking and climbing, and move around the villages' cobblestones in my lightweight Crocs.

Yes, the Croc has never been the prettiest girl in class, but that's not the card she plays. She is a free woman who thrives in comfort. She is resilient and ergonomic, moves silently, doesn't sweat, never gasps for breath (her ventilation is too good), and she is gender-neutral. And yes, she's as easy as a pair of flip-flops, and you can wear her with anything, anywhere, indoors and out, and she is affordable. Not as cheap as a simple slipper, but not as expensive as her German cousin, Birkenstock.

She still struggles to gain the same loyalty as Birkenstock.

The plastic Birkenstock has become a fashion item — because the style police approve of it — while Crocs had been on the market long before with this groundbreaking material.

If something is too strange, it's considered ugly, which is why you must introduce a new product through the back door and gradually get people accustomed to its appearance and features. That's why McDonald's still has the ugliest mascot in the world: that yellow and red jester who looks like he jumped out of a 1950s colouring book and got lost. Marketers know that if they replace the jester, they will alienate customers.

But cometh the hour, cometh the shoe.

The pandemic was to Crocs what the mountain fire was to the protea.

When we become more homebound, our needs changed.

Buying patterns changed. Fashion came to a standstill. “Fashion is dead," said Anna Wintour, appearing in public in a tracksuit. Edelkoort appeared in an apron.

Alongside tracksuits, Crocs improved its offerings in 2020 and 2021 as one of the fastest-growing fashion brands with a 430% sales increase.

Finally, the girl who is beautiful on the inside triumphs over the girl with long legs. And as your mother said, “beauty fades, but virtue remains". Crocs continue to grow and improve. Now, you can find sneakers, clogs, and flip-flops that are lighter and softer than ever before.

So, step off the Birkenstock bandwagon and join the Crocerati. We are off the grid, wearing handmade clothes of linen, wool and cotton, reading Sigrid Nunez and Rachel Cusk, making Ottolenghi recipes with vegetables from our own gardens, and decorating our homes with indoor plants.

(PS: I am not sponsored by Crocs.)

♦ VWB ♦

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