Kaarin Vembar is obsessed with the luxury and apparel markets. She also has a sassy mouth so her managing editor decided to give her a column in an attempt to harness insight for readers. Kaarin can be reached at [email protected].
Telfar partnering with Ugg is the end of the battle. Ugly shoes have won.
Telfar Clemens is arguably one of the most important and influential designers of the decade. So, when GQ revealed this past September that Clemens' namesake brand was collaborating with Ugg it was a sign that the Southern California company, most famous for its sheepskin boot worn by starlets in the aughts, is seriously back as a player on the fashion scene. The resulting partnership appears to be one of mutual admiration, for Clemens previously sent "unofficial, unauthorized Telfar-Ugg boots down the runway at multiple shows," according to the publication.
And that's only one thing Ugg has on deck. Last week, the company launched its first flagship in New York City, with plans to open additional flagship stores around the globe in 2021. The brand also is introducing a seasonal ready-to-wear collection featuring 30 unisex, comfortable styles that will be sold at Nordstrom and at Ugg retail locations as a way to further expand into apparel, according to WWD.
But, it's not just Ugg. Crocs, too, is in the middle of an ugly shoe renaissance. While so many retailers are struggling to find means of engaging customers due to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Crocs has positioned itself as a go-to option for comfort and practicality in a new era of staying at home.
And those hole-ridden shoes are taking it to the bank. In its third quarter, Crocs reported revenues increased 15.7% year over year, with e-commerce growing 35.5%, representing the company's 14th consecutive quarter of double-digit e-commerce revenue growth, according to Crocs CEO Andrew Rees. Additionally, comparable sales increased by over 16% and wholesale grew more than 12% year over year.
Crocs is also no stranger to a strong marketing strategy, including pairing with a celeb to bring focus to the brand — collaborations that sometimes leave shoppers scratching their heads. Case in point, this past October the company joined forces with Justin Bieber and his clothing brand Drew House for a "Croctober" launch. The name sits in the center of a Venn diagram of "pun" and "dad joke."
"As an artist, it's important that my creations stay true to myself and my style," Bieber said at the time of the launch. "I wear Crocs all the time, so designing my own pair came naturally."
Let's pause a second to break this down. Starting off a quote with "as an artist" and then launching into something about a clog is AMAZING. Do you appreciate its bizarre glory? Bieber designed a shoe that looks like all the rest of the brand's shoes — because that is the definition of Crocs — and everyone said, "sounds about right."
This time last year, Crocs dropped a collection with Post Malone — its fourth collab with the pop star — which sold out in under two hours. Within the past year the company has also partnered with Bad Bunny, Ruby Rose, Peeps and KFC for some fried chicken shoes which sold out in 90 seconds. Those types of product drops, with all of their cheekiness, actually may be part of the larger point. The retailer has a sense of humor and an understanding of pop culture and its place in the larger spectrum of its category.
The bigger thing that's hard to admit as a fashion lover is that these brands never really went away. They've been humming along in the background, with varying success, continuing to supply the public with non-fashionable yet completely established shoe options for years. Lately, they have just taken center stage as the pandemic cued up comfort.
"'Ugly' shoes like Crocs and clogs ... are here to stay, at least while the pandemic continues," said Cheryl Wagemann, retail analyst and editor at Finder, in emailed comments. "Being sequestered at home and balancing work and home life simultaneously is undeniably stressful, and many of us are pulling on the same pair of leggings and hoodie everyday in an effort to cope. I'd even take it a step further that choosing comfortable footwear and clothing gives us a small sense of stability that can feel grounding amid all the chaos."
And all that coziness and familiarity is translating into sales. Sweatshirts, sweatpants, active bottoms, sleepwear and socks will comprise 31% of total U.S. apparel spending this holiday season, up from 26% last year, according to an NPD Group estimate in October. Reaching for what is familiar may be "tied to consumers' quest for comfort during uncomfortable times, and how we dress will reflect this trend," said Maria Rugolo, director and industry analyst of fashion apparel for NPD.
This may be one reason these companies are so relatable, especially in the midst of a public health crisis. Crocs' tagline, "Come As You Are," feels especially poignant as a message of acceptance and a respite while everyone adjusts to a new way of living.
Gone are the days of trying to impress through high fashion or even inspirational apparel. In its place are those elements that make life a little easier and more joyful. And while it's debatable what role fashion takes in the middle of a crisis — some see it as a creative outlet, while others view it as inane — what we all need right now is a little more fun and coziness. Even if it comes in the form of shoes.