This week, Crocs Inc. announced it will soon close its last remaining manufacturing plant. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the company has revealed “no immediate plan” for how it will continue to make Crocs once all Croc-making facilities are gone.
Although I imagine many readers have already closed this tab so they can begin hoarding Crocs in a safe, silo, bunker, and/or shoe-based fallout shelter, those of you who are still here may be pleased to learn that the company’s namesake shoe will most likely survive this setback. Crocs Inc.’s stock has more than doubled in value since this time last year, and profits and sales are both growing. But with future production in flux and company leaders scrambling to chart the future of the bulky clog, it’s worth appreciating how far Crocs have come since their birth in 2002.
The first thing Croc-curious people should know is that the shoes are made of foam, not rubber. This is integral to the footwear’s appeal: At its best, the Croc is a light, breathable workhorse that molds to the foot and rinses clean. At its worst, it is a deliberate affront to passers-by that goes with precisely zero outfits and makes every foot look disgusting and deformed. Business analysts attribute Crocs’ 2009 near-bankruptcy to overexposure, overproduction, and the recession. I blame the ugly.
After all, shoes were one of the few consumer products that did well during the recession, because people see them as more essential than other elements of a wardrobe considering their low cost per wear. Crocs, which are cheaper and more durable than most shoes, should have thrived in a recession. But bulky perforated foam couldn’t compete with the gladiator sandals, platform heels, zipper accents, and studded leather that defined shoe trends in 2009. No one cared for shoes that made their feet look two sizes larger, with toes the shape of a duck’s bill. No one needed inch-thick ankle straps to keep their feet inside full-coverage shoes. No one wanted the inconvenience of a shoe that grants passage to dirt and pebbles through any number of holes, then traps them there with a closed toe and sides.
That was then. Today, ugly, comfortable shoes are back with a vengeance. Birkenstocks, once the domain of those draped in hemp necklaces and patchouli oil, went high-fashion a few years back when furry and bejeweled versions began clomping down red carpets. Tevas, the shoes of choice among dads on the sidelines of my sixth-grade soccer games, are becoming runway mainstays. I should clarify that I’m not necessarily talking about actual Birkenstocks and Tevas here, but designer derivatives of the brands’ flagship shoes. Céline’s mink-lined “furkenstocks,” Prada’s nylon-and-Velcro “grip-strap” sandals, Suicoke’s Ugg-like clogs—these are something like the inverse of knockoffs, the glamorizing and upscaling of fundamentally unglamorous, utilitarian designs.
It stands to reason, given that dork shoes have ascended to the realm of the aspirational, that Crocs are overdue for a similar comeback. The first sign of their inevitable return came last spring, when Balenciaga introduced rubber “texture clogs” with 4.5-inch platform heels. They are nearly identical to Crocs, except without the functionality. Crocs were made for gardening, sloshing around on a fishing boat, running out to take the dog around the block for a quick pee. None of this is possible, much less comfortable, in a 4.5-inch platform heel embedded with spikes. That may be the key to the reverse-knockoff ugly shoe trend. If you’re wearing Crocs or Birkenstocks, you’re probably performing a chore, manual labor, or an inexpensive bit of recreation. If you’re wearing embellished “Crocs” or “Birkenstocks,” you are almost certainly not. It’s sad to think that the comparatively populist Crocs might have been the butt of the world’s shoe jokes for 16 years only to serve as a springboard for a bunch of snobbish designers to make a mint by perverting their form.
Like many Croc fans, I imagine, I wasn’t primed to fully grasp the shoe’s appeal until I found myself in a moment of crisis. While battling a (VERY MINOR) bedbug infestation earlier this year, I read just about every bedbug-related message board on the internet. As I carried out my research, I found that several of my fellow survivors recommended Crocs as the ideal, virtually uninfestable shoe. I asked my exterminator for confirmation, and he told me that bedbugs rarely take up residence in any style or brand of shoe. Still, it made me wonder what other unfortunate circumstances Crocs could help their owners endure. Black mold in the bathroom? Rodents in the basement? The impending floods and scorching summers of a changing climate? Comfort and resilience will be crucial assets in the footwear of our increasingly dystopian future. May the Croc live long enough to see it.