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What a croc

We can understand the appeal of a comfortable shoe for yard work or boating. But molded resin as a fashion statement? Please.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published May 10, 2007


Once upon a time, people wore little rubber booties in inclement weather, to, you know, protect their actual shoes.

But somewhere in the trend cesspool, a new option emerged - one that can withstand a serious hose-down and repel the stank of sweaty, nasty feet the world over.

Crocs.

You know them. You love them. Or, you hate them with a passion that burns from the darkest corner of your soul.

"They offend our eyes and bamboozle our friends," said Vincenzo Ravina, a 19-year-old from Nova Scotia who started the Web site ihatecrocs.com with his girlfriend. "Croc-wearers are kind of like cultists."

Crocs are funky, chunky brightly colored clogs made of "Croslite," a patented resin that conforms to the foot.

Crocs representatives are quick to point out that the shoes aren't plastic - a material that should be reserved for sandwich bags and boy-in-bubble movies, not shoes.

The most popular style, the "Beach," has huge ventilation holes on top, making Air Jordan's airflow holes look lazy.

You can stick little charms, called Jibbitz, in the holes. You can shine them up with "Crocs- butter." They even come in licensed sports teams colors and Disney designs.

Everyone from grandmas to dads to Al Roker wears them. This recent Today show banter is hard evidence. Don't try to deny it, Roker.

Matt Lauer: In your wardrobe, do you have one staple, one thing you could not live without season to season?

Al: My Crocs.

Matt: Your Crocs? You have Crocs?

Al: Yeah, I got Crocs.

While you laugh, Crocs is depositing checks at the bank. Last year, the Colorado company raked in $354.7-million - up more than $200-million from the year before.

The company just released a line of 10 new styles, including ballet flats, flip-flops, slide platforms and Mary Janes.

An ad for the spring line in Glamour magazine reads, "More Beauty. Less Beast." But does narrowing the Croc make them a fashion must-have? Should they be marketed as fashion at all?

"We basically built a brand not on fashion, but on our technology that allows us to further grow the product," said Crocs spokeswoman Jessica Packard. "This is really is an extension of that."

"They're butt-ugly," said Michelle Browne, a pediatric nurse in Tarpon Springs who, despite her fashion judgment, wears pink, green and white Crocs at work to relieve foot and back pain. "They're supposed to be some sort of a fashion statement. I don't wear them in public. I wish I could."

Tim Bradford, a 34-year-old avid fisherman from St. Petersburg, likes Crocs so much that he bought stock in the company.

"Initially, I would only wear them while boating or kayaking, but they replace all of my shoes except my work shoes," said Bradford, who owns four pairs. "I wear them to the stores, yard work, pretty much everywhere. Yes, I am the guy you laugh at."

Friends have teased him, he said - until they try on the shoe. Comfy footsies win.

But you have to wonder - will Crocs stick around for the long haul? Or will they eventually head to shoe heaven or hell? with Ugg boots and jelly sandals?

Ravina, whose Web site includes footage of a solemn Croc burning in a field, doesn't buy the comfort line.

"Bathrobes are comfortable. I don't wear my bathrobe to the grocery store. And on a really hot day, you don't see me running around with no clothes on at all, though I'm sure that would be comfortable. Crocs are the same thing."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at (813) 269-5303 or shayes@sptimes.com.