The Ever-Growing Cult of the Crocs: How the Shoe We Love to Hate Became a Fashion Superstar

crocs outfit

This article is part of a brand partnership.

Fashion may be cyclical, but the chances are that you wouldn’t have expected Crocs to become a style icon following their 2002 release. Taking the form of a plastic shoe taking the approximate shape of a crocodile’s jaw line, Crocs were ridiculed when they entered the market. 20 years on, 600 million pairs have been sold and the footwear that we love to hate has become a catwalk regular. So how did Crocs become a fashion superstar?

If we had to pinpoint a transformative moment for Crocs, it may have been the Covid-19 pandemic. The manufacturer sold some 69 million pairs in 2020, generating $1.386 billion in sales and a 12.6% revenue increase over the year prior.

Even for their creators, Lyndon “Duke” Hanson, and George Boedecker Jr, the rise of the cult of Crocs must’ve been unexpected–even though they immediately sold out their first 200 pairs when introducing them at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in Florida.

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Rosalia wearing Balenciaga x Crocs Sandals
credit: @rosalia.vt/Instagram

Crocs are refreshingly simple, playful, and durable. Molded from EVA foam, the shoe can be produced en masse, and the company’s patent for “breathable workshoes and methods for manufacturing such” makes the product a functional success.

Although styles and clothing can fall out of and back into fashion, there’s something about the disdain for Crocs following their initial launch that makes their emergence as a style icon more emphatic.

“Yes, we’re ugly; yes, we’re polarizing,” said Heidi Cooley, CMO for Crocs. “But importantly, we’re one-of-a-kind. And what we recognized is that this is exactly what resonated with some of our fans: They too see themselves as one-of-a-kind.”

So, how did Crocs strategize their path from ridicule to resounding success? It’s possible to chart a number of key strategic approaches that have enabled the ever-divisive shoe to flourish:

Crocs Gave Their Style Room to Breathe

In the world of fashion, style, and comfort can often find themselves at odds with each other. But with Crocs, the shoe’s unmistakable and childlike shape and texture were ideal for assuring wearability while the materials used were easy to clean.

This made Crocs ideal in a functional sense–particularly for wearers who needed to spend many hours on their feet and thus would have to regularly clean their shoes.

The biggest challenge that Crocs needed to contend with over the past 20 years was the suggestion that the shoes were ugly. Even TIME magazine got in on the Crocs slander, listing the shoe among its 50 worst inventions back in 2010.

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Blackpink singer Jennie Kim wearing Balenciaga x Crocs Slide Sandals
credit: @jennierubyjane/Instagram

The blog I Hate Crocs dot com, a page that’s “dedicated to the elimination of Crocs and those who think that their excuses for wearing them are viable,” was launched in 2007 by one passionate blogger. The fact that the blog owner hasn’t posted since 2021 may be an admission of defeat amidst the shoe’s most recent surge in popularity.

Despite being faced with such a severe backlash, Crocs never sought to go back to the drawing board or change their style. This gave the shoe enough breathing room to become a style icon. We’re now able to instantly recognize Crocs from their unmistakable vents and easy-to-use straps.

Intelligent Collaborations Secured Growth

Crocs also marketed their product intelligently, and launched many impactful collaborations with fashion houses like Balenciaga, and streetwear brands like Chinatown Market, and worked with leading musicians like Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny, and Post Malone. In fact, many of the limited edition collaborations introduced by Crocs have sold out at a rapid pace.

The rise of Crocs was epitomized on the red carpet as musician Questlove opted to wear gold versions of the shoes at the 2021 Oscars.

“Questlove’s choice to pair a suit with Crocs is wild, to say the least,” said HighNobility fashion writer, Fabian Gorsler. “It definitely wouldn’t have worked before the pandemic and–if we’re being totally honest with ourselves–it still doesn’t really work now. But we’re at a crossroads in fashion, where the importance of comfort can’t be understated.”

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Man wearing Lazy Oaf x Crocs sandals in Paris

The crossover between comfort and style has been a key driver for growth for Crocs. The brand has introduced new color combinations and patterns for users to enjoy, and there have even been Disney and Pixar themes available for users to buy.

As a result, Crocs have become a fashion accessory that’s both subtle and expressive. Not unlike eyewear, where wearers can scan brand collections like that of Calvin Klein, seek out their favorite color combinations, and find it here to mix and match their look in a more discreet manner.

The combination of comfort, collaborations, and potential for expression has meant that Crocs have been a hit with wearers of all ages.

Today, the hashtag #crocs has amassed over 7 billion views on TikTok, while Poper Sandler’s Fall 2022 “Taking Stock With Teens” survey saw Crocs climb into 5th place in terms of brand preference.

It’s clear that Crocs have produced a masterstroke in terms of endurance, and current trends have seen their product climb to unprecedented levels of popularity despite much derision.

Adding the Opportunity for Personalization

In one of Crocs’ most ambitious steps, the brand acquired Jibbitz, a firm that had begun introducing charms that could be added to the shoe as a means of greater personalization, in 2006.

Jibbitz meant that wearers could express themselves further using their Crocs in a move that helped to give people the opportunity to customize their shoes without compromising the iconic style of the shoe itself.

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Street style seen at Paris Fashion Week

Again, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a transformative time for Jibbitz accessories, with revenues more than doubling in Q1 2021.

Although Crocs have been arguably the 21st Century’s most divisive fashion accessory, it’s becoming clear that their popularity is only growing today among users of all ages. For a product that’s barely changed in style in two decades, it’s pretty good going for one of TIME magazine’s 50 worst inventions.