Right now on the hypebeast resale site Grailed, a pair of Crocs is going for $500. To be fair, they are not the normal kind of Crocs that you can find at, like, J.C. Penney; they’re from the brand’s collaboration with the streetwear brand Alife from earlier this summer. Still, it’s a lot of money for a squishy orthopedic shoe that Time magazine once included in a slideshow of the 50 worst inventions.
But it’s not all that surprising, given that Crocs have been a kooky side note in high fashion for a few years. Crocs regularly clomp down runways at fashion week; there are heel versions and fur versions and platform versions that cost $850 and sold out before they even went on sale.
Yet most of that industry clout has been due to its collaborations, like the ones with streetwear brands such as Alife or established houses like Balenciaga, in which the Platonic ideal of the classic Croc is reimagined by a high-profile creative director. And the rest of it overlaps with the fact that, somehow, hideous sandals in general are in vogue.
Crocs themselves aren’t responsible for the confounding relevance of footwear like Birkenstocks and Tevas over the past five-plus years. The Crocs we know today have been around for more than a decade; their existence just happened to overlap with the fact that suddenly, their particular brand of ugly is on trend.
And with its new collection, Crocs is actively chasing the customer who probably already owns an ironic pair (or a few). Brand employees told me they even have a special name for him (he’s a dude): the “explorer,” the hypebeast-adjacent Gen Zer who stores his Crocs next to his Yeezys. In an even more blatant teen-targeting move, on November 1, the brand announced a collab with rapper Post Malone.
“We know this group is all about self-expression, which is why our spring 2019 collection features a bright, bold color palette, positive messaging, oversized logos and trend-right platform silhouettes,” explained Michelle Poole, senior vice president and chief product and merchandising officer of Crocs.
Alongside the brand’s standard fare of flexible sandals, bedazzle-able clogs in a rainbow of shades, and dad-approved water shoes, the Crocs collection preview on October 30 featured certain styles that wouldn’t have looked out of place at, say, an Adidas store. There were minimalist slip-ons in sleek black-and-white combinations, a sneaker that looked almost like Allbirds but with techier fabric, and a rubbery slide with a millennial pink upper and a translucent red flatform. They’re shoes that pair well with current fashion: casual, streetwear-influenced clothing that’s relatively unflashy.
The move is similar to what pretty much every other brand is doing, with the hope of attracting devoted customers that will be around for a long time (and especially when they start holding jobs with disposable incomes). Kodak, a camera company in an era when people already have cameras on their phones, is targeting teens obsessed with old-school analog technology with its collaboration with Forever 21. Formerly struggling fashion brands like Abercrombie and Delia’s have attempted rebrands to capture fresh Gen Z consumers who don’t remember when they were trendy the first time around.
And Crocs’ courting of the cool teen appears to be working. In a recent survey conducted by the investment firm Piper Jaffray of about 8,600 teenagers, Crocs was ranked 13th in the “top footwear brand” category, up from 27th last year. It’s a statistic that’s clearly influenced by the larger trend of ugly shoes as status symbols, and of ironic fashion in general (which also explains the rise of brands like Vetements and Off-White).
Even though most teens can’t afford to drop multiple hundreds on the versions peddled by other brands, they’re probably a lot more likely to spring for Crocs’ regular ol’ $30 to $40 versions. People are even creating their own imaginary brand collabs on places like YouTube, which has dozens of videos of people DIYing their concepts of Crocs by Supreme, Off-White, and Gucci.
Sales of Crocs may be down from their 2014 high, but focusing on the cool-young-person market could help. And Crocs appears to be leaning in: “Our ‘explorer’ consumers play an important role in shaping our global product and marketing strategies,” added Poole.
It’s hard to say how long ugly shoes will be cool — fashion is a pendulum, and trends tend to arrive as a backlash to whatever came before — but as long as teens are buying Crocs, it seems that Crocs will be giving them what they want.