How did Crocs become Cool? In 2020, footwear's ugly duckling blossoms.

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

In 2010, a TIME magazine article listed Crocs as one of The 50 Worst inventions — a list of ‘bright ideas that just didn’t work out’.

Crocs shoes were described as at best, ‘attractive enough to do your laundry in’.

trend line
google trends data for worldwide search interest in Crocs

Ten years later, the brand is doing better than ever.

Worldwide searches for the shoe brand saw a rapid spike from March to April this year, when Crocs announced that they were giving free pairs to healthcare workers in the US.

Next Tuesday, Crocs’ collaboration with Country singer Luke Combs drops. This will be the singer’s third collaboration with Crocs, with the previous two selling out in minutes.

Apart from Combs, Crocs has impressively managed collaborations with a slew of other high-profile artists, from Post Malone to Ruby Rose, and counts Priyanka Chopra as one of their celebrity ambassadors.

Today, we answer this question: How did it happen?

Non-Fashion Fashion: Making Ugly Cool

Across categories, the fashion world has seen the definition of desirability shift. Led by millennials and Gen Zers, trainers with chunky soles, fanny packs, and cargo pants (now ‘utility chic’ trousers) were brought into the cool zone. High fashion brands experiment with High Street fashion.

This is the 90s resurgence taken a step further. We see a shift towards hyper normalcy. Luxury brands like Balenciaga and Off-White produce clothes with loud logos and awkward cuts, taking ‘oversized’ to new levels.

The regular Joe T-shirt and baggy jeans look has been made ultra-average, so much so that it borders gaudy (dare we say it). Unassuming, chunky ‘dad shoes’ have been given extra chunkiness, extra funky patterns, new colours, et voila- we have luxe streetwear.

With its chunky, holey foam shoes, Crocs saw an opportunity to tap into the market, and ran with it. Looking to Crocs’ instagram page, we observe three interesting clusters of images:

Memes, memes, memes.

Tip #1 of post-2010 coolness: Meme yourself before others meme you.

Crocs leverages on viral meme formats, frequently posting their own memes on their feed. From the ‘Starter Pack’ meme, the ‘Everyone:’ meme, to the ‘Woman Yelling At A Cat’ meme, Crocs keeps itself up-to-date with the latest, most spreadable memes, and pokes fun at themselves.

As internet humor evolves, even memes with not-so-funny text against a popular template format are considered as funny. Leaving traditional B2B social media messaging conventions aside for more person-to-person styles, Crocs, through posting memes, positions itself as a relatable, trend-aware brand.

An Offbeat Appeal

Scanning through Crocs’ instagram feed, our Culture AI detected a cluster of posts that looked like they could’ve belonged in a teenager’s spam instagram account, aka a ‘finsta’ account.

These are second instagram accounts created by users who want to post more authentic, uncurated photos and rambles. These posts often detract from the nicer aesthetics of their main instagram account, and are more accurate portrayals of their real life, not the dream, ideal one that their main account shows. Pictures are sometimes cryptic and wacky, revealing an edgy, warped humor side that lacks the mainstream appeal of a ‘main instagram’ post.

By posting occasional pictures with dim lighting, messy composition and odd angles, Crocs nuances its brand messaging with offbeat authenticity, appealing to younger audiences.

A hit with the Cool Kids too

At the same time, Crocs’ instagram feed also shows images of cheerleaders wearing Crocs, and influencer-esque people posing with their crocs against mainstream, aesthetically pleasing backdrops.

In this image, a pair of crocs is worn in a casual at-home selfie post. The message?

A pair of crocs will look cute with your athleisure wear, and is definitely worthy to be in mirror selfies.

Posts like this show people striking the ‘flex’ pose, a half squat/lunge pose used to show off the freshest kicks and cool streetwear fits. Appearing in these types of pictures, a pair of crocs is staged as having hype value. 

The winning strategy: Stay Ugly, but make it the selling point

And so, we reach a conclusion on Crocs’ strategy for maintaining relevance. 

Instead of reinventing itself with features that inspire more mainstream appeal, Crocs, through clever brand positioning, has capitalized on subculture movements that accord ‘Ugliness’ prestige, paired up with celebs for star power, and played it safe through embracing good social media etiquette. 

Memes, the cool kids, and all the right poses. 

It helps too that younger consumers are moving away from conventional ideas of beauty and fashionability. The millennials and Gen Zers draw style influences from a broad range of eras and have no qualms with reworking traditionally gender-specific styles. 

The newer generation of consumers do not hold themselves to a certain style standard, which means that conventionally unfashionable objects can suddenly be made (ironically?) trendy. Especially in coronavirus times where casual wear takes centre stage, comfort has become the key need informing their purchasing behaviour. 

All in all, not bad for a Top-50 Worst Invention. 

For more insights, email [email protected]

Read more:

Bergdorf Goodman: The American Dream?

Walking down the High-street: Streetwear in the 2020s

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