Crocs wants you to love them again

When Crocs made a surprise debut at Christopher Kane’s London Fashion Week show on Monday, social media erupted with surprised, horrified and amused posts about the rubber clogs’ unlikely appearance in a high-fashion setting.

The Scottish designer, who approached Crocs about the collaboration, sent models marching down the runway in high-fashion clothing accompanied by limited edition plain-colored and marble print Crocs, embellished with gemstones specially designed for the collection. “I love that they are slightly awkward and might be perceived by some as ‘ugly,’” said Kane in a statement. “Adding the rock crystals brings a bit of luxury to this everyday style.” The Crocs, soon to go on sale, will “retail for much more” than the classic Crocs $35 the company said, although the final price has yet to be established.

“It was such a surprise,” said Erwin Penland’s chief planning officer Jessica Navas about seeing Crocs in Kane’s runway show. “It’s not that people are going to be out there in their best athleisure and Crocs right away, but it’s a breakthrough.”

Ugly shoes are continuing to have a moment, and it seems Crocs, which are typically associated with commercial kitchen staff, nurses and children under the age of five, could join in. Crocs is trying to jump on the back of fashion’s ugly shoe phenomenon and be the style of shoe that alternative, comfort-seeking fashion lovers seek out.

Birkenstock and Teva sandals remain popular amongst general consumers following their debut on high-fashion runways in recent years. Teva used its newfound popularity to launch new marketing campaigns to reposition itself as a trendy sandal.

Now, Crocs is attempting to do the same. The brand is embracing the “ugly aesthetic,” with a sponsored content partnership with the blog Man Repeller, which is known for taking a self deprecating, humorous approach to all things fashion and culture that, well, repels men. 

The post poses the question: “What if Crocs were the new white sneaker,” and includes a 14 photo spread of the shoes on different models.

“Man Repeller has been on the Crocs trend for quite some time,” said Terence Reilly, chief marketing officer at Crocs. “We’ve seen white clogs trending with our consumers and it was a natural way for us to feature this trend with one of the most trustworthy sources for trends and fashion.” Reilly said both the partnership with Kane and the sponsored content is the beginning of its new marketing strategies, and further plans for 2017 will be announced in the coming weeks.

Crocs’ strategy of embracing the ugly-chic aesthetic is smart marketing, Navas said. “The brand isn’t trying to be a poser and catapult itself in there, it was chosen [by Kane] which makes it seem more legit.”

Getting the wider market to accept and wear an “ugly sandal” typically begins on the runway before it trickles down to the mainstream market, but it’s too soon to tell whether Crocs will reach that level of wide-spread acceptance. WGSN accessories and footwear director Claire Foster said Kane’s use of Crocs was slightly surprising, however she noted he is a “fan of the ugly shoe,” being one of the first leading designers to introduce flat pool slides into his collections in previous years. “I think it will definitely make the more fashion-conscious consumer take a second look at Crocs and what they’re doing.”

In 2002, Crocs were founded by three friends, George Boedecker Jr, Lyndon Hanson III and Scott Seamans on a boat trip. The foam shoes debuted at the Fort Lauderdale boat show where they were thrown at passersby to demonstrate how light they were, and according to the company’s website, all 1,000 pairs sold out. Today, the Colorado based company has 4,000 employees globally and in the three months ended June 30, its revenue was $323.8 million. Sales in the second quarter dipped slightly compared to last year, by 6.3 percent, and the company’s financial outlook predicts 2016’s revenue will be down by “low single digits” compared to December last year, because of a cautious retail environment and slower turnaround in China.

Chris Gilbert, senior strategist at Kettle NYC, said the attention brought to Crocs with its collaboration with Kane will help it shift from a traditional “middle market american audience” of mom and kids into a “fashion play” space. But he’s hesitant as to whether it will shift Crocs’ bottom line any time soon. He said the fashion world follows designers loyally, but mass level relevance doesn’t span as quickly. “It’s not until large-scale retailers like Target and JC Penny design teams adopt the style and Crocs appear in editorial read by the masses that there’s likely to be a lift in sales. At this stage the spark is lit, let’s see if it catches.”

The Kane-Crocs collaboration received mixed reactions on Twitter and Instagram.

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