Something unexpected is happening in America’s high schools and colleges right now: teens, a demographic that often buys based on appearances and perceptions of how cool a brand is, are gravitating toward Crocs’ famously lumpy, foam-resin footwear.
When investment firm Piper Jaffray recently released the results of its semi-annual survey of US teens, for instance, it noted that the brands to see the biggest gains in approval from the age group were Vans, Adidas, Lululemon, and “surprisingly,” Crocs—which ranked as the 13th-favorite brand of teens surveyed, up from 27th in the previous year.
And today (Nov. 8), on a call with investors, Crocs CEO Andrew Rees said back-to-school shopping among high-school and college students was one of the key factors that boosted the brand in the US this quarter. It posted a 19.9% year-over-year increase in sales at stores in the Americas—mostly the US—that have been open at least a year this past quarter. The results mark a high point in a turnaround the brand has been working on for years.
Now the brand is seeing strong sales of its sandals and clogs, which make up the majority of its business, not just among parents and workers who are on their feet all day, but apparently teens too. (Crocs has noted that many teenagers like the waterproof shoes for before and after sporting events.)
“The first thing I’ll say is it wasn’t an accident,” Rees said on the call. “We’ve been focused on igniting the teen customer for a period of time now.”
Crocs has been enlisting brand ambassadors such as wrestler John Cena, (who kids and teens seem to love) and actress Drew Barrymore to connect with younger shoppers. Last week, it launched a collaboration with—of all people—rapper Post Malone. The Post Malone Croc sold out in minutes. Quantities were likely small, but it generated a lot of buzz for the brand. Crocs said it plans to create more products and releases with him into 2019.
The company has also expanded its offering of shoe charms by the brand Jibbitz to appeal more to high school and college kids. A few years ago, those charms, which shoppers use to personalize their clogs and sandals, tended to be things like licensed characters aimed at young children. But Crocs has added charms like letters, numbers, and emojis—”socially relevant icons,” Rees called them.
Those types of charms featured prominently on the Croc stilettos—you read that right—and platform clogs that Crocs created with luxury brand Balenciaga, each retailing for several hundred dollars. Though not the first fashion label to cozy up to Crocs—Christopher Kane started his collaboration with the brand in 2016—Balenciaga is one of fashion’s trend leaders, and not by coincidence, a pioneer of the industry’s current obsession with ugliness. It was another surprise for a shoe known for being—sorry Crocs—supremely unfashionable.
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