Crocs Found a Way Back Onto People’s Feet Amid the Pandemic

The ugly yet comfortable clog became a staple for bustling healthcare workers

LONDON - OCTOBER 18: A girl models a pair of Mammoth Crocs outside the first UK Crocs store on October 18, 2007 in London England. Crocs have launched a new Mammoth model for the winter to celebrate the opening of the new store. (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images) Cate Gillon/Getty Images

On March 25, as the country reeled with the news that the novel coronavirus had infected at least 65,000 people across the United States and Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the spread was “accelerating,” a tweet went out from Crocs headquarters in Niwot, Colo. “Now and always, we need to take care of each other,” it read. “Sending love to you, #CrocNation, and sending free shoes to our front-line heroes in healthcare.”

This was no casual promise. Crocs pledged to ship up to 10,000 pairs of its lightweight shoes a day to doctors, nurses and anyone else logging long hours in the nation’s hospitals. And to date, it’s donated over 860,000 pairs.

The “Free Pair for Healthcare” initiative didn’t only turn a lot of heads on social media, but it also helped accomplish a feat that critics thought impossible: Crocs are cool again.

black and white diagram of three crocs showing what they're made up of
A pair of Crocs weighs only six ounces, even as they orthopedically support your feet. So what are these shoes made of, exactly? It was originally called Croslite, a closed-cell resin possessed with an uncanny ability to mold to the shape of the foot. Crocs had the good sense to purchase the formula for Croslite 2004.
European Patent Office

Granted, these famously ugly, famously comfortable clogs were on the comeback road already. Post Malone crooned about his “thousand dollar Crocs” in 2019, and there was that brief vogue of TikTok videos where people filled Crocs with shaving cream. But it seems to have taken a national crisis for consumers to realize that Crocs aren’t just a cheap and fun feature of the adolescent wardrobe; they’re a serious piece of footwear with staying power, one whose indelible combination of orthopedic comfort, gossamer weight and indestructibility make them cherished by all who work on their feet.

When it comes to Crocs’ place in the consumer culture, “there are two main factors going on,” said veteran fashion journalist Christina Binkley. “The first is the fact that they are an amazingly good, simple design. I’m not saying they’re beautiful—because they’re not; they’re hideous. But they’re feathers on your feet, cushiony and comfortable.”

And No. 2? “They had impeccable timing,” she said. “Crocs managed to get really good design at roughly the same time we dropped our barrier for ugly footwear.”

That was 2002, to be precise, when Uggs and Tevas were hot and three Colorado entrepreneurs discovered a water-friendly clog made by a Canadian company called Foam Creations. The men acquired the rights, added a strap to the back and called the shoe Crocs, named after the crocodile. Crocs sold well enough with the nautical set, but the real traction came from everyone from restaurant workers to doctors and nurses to painters and gardeners. Plus, kids loved the shoes’ rainbow colors.

“Crocophiles” included Brooke Shields, Al Pacino and former President George W. Bush. Crocs’ $1 million in 2003 sales had morphed to $200 million by 2006.

But Crocs, overproduced and overexpanded, was in the red by 2008. It would take nearly a decade of time, plus the aforementioned social media serendipity and pandemic to bring them back. And now that they are, even fans like Jaime Robinson, CCO of Joan Creative, struggle to explain how such an ugly shoe has ingratiated itself so well.

“I have tried to hate Crocs, but I cannot,” she said. “Because there are few things in our world that feel as unrepentant, as unfocus grouped, as wildly silly as Crocs.”

Founders (clockwise from top) Lyndon Hanson, George Boedecker and Scott Seamans (1) modified a Canadian-made boating shoe and turned it into Crocs, whose popularity gave rise to National Crocs Day and its annual limited-edition shoe (2). Crocs owed some of its recent comeback to designer collaborations that resulted in shoes like this Balenciaga platform clog (3) and to pop culture shout-outs from the likes of Post Malone (4). But the big boost came in March with the "Free Pair for Healthcare" giveaway.
1. Getty Images; 2.,4.,5. Courtesy of Crocs; 3. Getty Images
This story first appeared in the June 22, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.