Awareness wasn’t Crocs’s problem when Michelle Poole joined the company seven years ago, in 2014. “Crocs was actually one of the best-known [brands] considering how young it was,” Poole, now the company’s president, tells me. But being well-known wasn’t exactly a good thing: Crocs had something closer to infamy than fame, better known as a punchline than a pair of shoes. “The challenge was that, and I’ll say it politely, people said, ‘Hey, Crocs isn’t for me,” Poole says. Even Mr. Rogers might find that description too kind.
Crocs, founded in 2002 by three friends who landed on the idea while sailing through the Caribbean, wasn’t designed to satisfy mainstream tastes. Instead, the shoes were originally marketed to boaters, with the very first porous clogs sold at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show The Crocs booth attracted so many interested customers the fire marshal on site found it hazardous. But the shoe that garnered adoration at a boating show in Florida had a very different effect on the fashion world.
The absolute most generous take among fashion-conscious types seemed to be that Crocs’s signature clogs were uncool, clunky, evidence even of a slovenly person. The Cut once joked Crocs were “100 percent effective birth control.” In short, they were considered ugly.
This did not deter the Crocs corporation. Poole and the rest of the team soldiered on, certain that the clog, she says, was and is an “icon.” Everyone knew about the shoe, even if they didn’t like it very much. So instead of changing the shoe, the brand decided on a riskier gambit: it set out to completely change our taste in footwear. Shockingly, it worked.
Crocs has gone from laughing stock to, well, a really good stock. In 2020, revenues grew nearly 13% to $1.4 billion, an all-time high for the company. That’s good. But what’s really astounding is what happened over the first half of 2021, when Crocs has brought in $1.1 billion in revenue. That’s a massive 80% increase compared to the first half of 2020. Consider this: in the first half of this year, Crocs has made almost as much as it did during the entirety of its record-breaking 2020.
Crocs’s comeback, like a fondue fork, is two-pronged. Changing tastes in footwear is part of it, but nothing has helped change the idea of the Crocs clog quite like its ambitious slate of collaborations. In the past several years, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, fast-food joint KFC, Anwar Carrots, Alife, and others have made their own Crocs. These interested partners seem to have materialized from out of nowhere.