In a world of dotted espadrilles, jeweled thong sandals, and Nike Air Force Ones, a resin shoe is far from the prettiest shoe on the market.
In fact, a kid wearing Crocs would have been laughed out of town back in the day. Clumsily oversized, covered with holes and the flip-flappable strap, Crocs are as anti-fashion as you can get. Stylistically, Crocs don't make sense.
But what does yesteryear's in-crowd know?
"I just like them," said 8-year-old Zakariah Alyan as he waited in line Sunday afternoon to have his caricature drawn at Rittenhouse Square. "All of my friends have them."
Within the last five years, the Colorado-based Crocs, whose shoes range from $30 to $60 a pair, has become the fastest-growing footwear company in the world. Tweens, teens and those of us tired of walking around in shoes that pinch our feet have boosted the company's sales from $108 million to $364 million in the last year.
In the last month, the financial world took notice of Crocs when the stock split a little more than a year after the company went public (with a $208 million initial public offering).
It's no wonder that suddenly Crocs are everywhere you look.
"I started wearing Crocs two months ago and I love them," said Sandi Brecher, who gives her age as "somewhere in her 60s." Brecher was shopping in Ardmore's Suburban Square last week in khaki-colored Crocs.
"I have another pair in sage," she said. "They are so comfortable. At first, I didn't like them. They were ugly. Then my grandchildren told me to try them and I did."
That's generally how Croc-wearers become fans. They see them. Turn their nose up at them. Try on a pair. Fall in love. Tell a friend.
In addition to everyday walkers, the soft shoe has a loyal celebrity following, including actors Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Teri Hatcher and former Philadelphia Flyer Peter Forsberg.
Last month, President Bush was photographed wearing black Crocs with the strap turned up, paired with fashionably unforgivable black socks.
One could say the rainbow-colored clogs are the best example of middle America choosing comfort over style. To heck with what self-appointed stylistas find attractive: It's their feet and they want Crocs.
The phenomenon started when three middle-aged friends from Boulder, Colo., set out on a quest to find the perfect boating shoe. Scott Seamans stumbled upon Foam Creations, a Canadian company, which had developed a shoe that he believed would meet the needs of the nautical community.
Before putting what would later be Crocs on the market, the businessmen hired scientists to develop a special resin they named Crocite and then added the strap. They launched the shoe in November 2002 at a boat show, selling out of 200 pairs.
Two years later, Seamans, along with George Boedecker and Lyndon V. "Duke" Hanson III, bought Foam Creations for $5 million.
In an effort to get the shoes on the market, the founding three peddled them to boutiques and sporting-goods and department stores, cinching deals with Nordstrom, Hallmark, and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Among the stores that picked up the brand was Benjamin Lovell, which became the first local boutique to carry the shoe. "We started carrying them a year and a half ago and from the beginning we all had a love/hate relationship with the shoes," said buyer John Holden. "We were afraid they would steal sales from our higher-price-point shoes. . . . I carry them in six stores now. We sell hundreds a week."
Crocs have even spun off an accessories business.
Two years ago, Boulder mom Sheri Schmelzer and her three children developed charms that specially fit in the odd-shaped Crocs holes and called them Jibbitz (www.jibbitz.com).
In December Crocs bought the company from the Schmelzers for approximately $5 million.
Today, Crocs are available in more than 35 colors. The company has secured licensing deals with the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, as well as Disney and several universities.
In the fall, a more stylish brand of Crocs called YoubyCrocs (www.youbycrocs.com), a collection of patent-leather wedges, flip-flops and closed-toed shoes, will become available.
The company has also gone into business with former Philadelphia Flyers captain Keith Primeau. Under the name Fury Sports, Crocs will be using Crocite to make antimicrobial protective equipment for hockey players.
As summer gets under way here in Philadelphia, Crocs are a favorite of kids such as Zakariah Alyan and their parents, whether they are sporting knockoffs spotted in Target and Payless or the real things.
Fred Morganstein, 38, of Lafayette Hill says Crocs are a favorite of his employees at Infinity Catering in Manayunk and his family of four.
He credits the shoes with saving his aching feet and in the last year he's bought eight pairs - including a pair in the blue-and-white of his alma mater, Penn State.
His son, 8-year-old Justin, has a pair in camouflage, and his daughter, 4-year-old Devon, has a pink pair. And his wife Robin owns a pair of Crocs.
"I'm on my feet all the time," Morganstein said with a chuckle. "I have to protect them. When I found these shoes, it relieved a lot of pressure. I love them."
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/elizabethwellington.