Fish Lens: How Crocs turned from walking contraceptives to Gen Z fashion, explained

Oh how the turntables.

Fasiha Nazren |
February 7, 2023, 12:05 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

Disclaimer: This article is written by a Crocs-wearer. 

Here’s one thing the 2010 version of me could never have imagined happening in 2022: Crocs are back in trend.

Yup, Crocs — the laughing stock of websites like 4chan and 9gag back in the late noughties – is the “it” footwear for the Gen Zs.

This meme has aged like milk. Photo from Know Your Meme.

Boats, boats, boats

Now, here’s a quick backstory. The brand was founded in 2002 and the holey footwear started off as a “comfortable boat shoe”.

And by boat shoes, Crocs doesn’t mean the preppy kinds that you can find at Sperry or Timberland.

They mean shoes that you can literally wear on a boat.

That makes sense since Crocs are slip-resistant, have holes to drain out the water and are made with Crocslite, a trademarked foam-like material that allows it to perform on both land and in water.

Celebrity status

However, does it make any fashion sense? Apparently, it did, thanks to pop culture in the late 2000s.

Hollywood celebrities were seen unapologetically strutting the streets in Crocs.

(Forgive us for these potato-quality images. They were, after all, taken in the late 2000s.)

Jared Leto

Photo from People Espanol.

Halle Berry

Photo from People Espanol.

Morgan Freeman

Photo from People Espanol.

Losses in late 2000s

Like most fads, Crocs faced its unfortunate downfall hard and extremely fast.

According to The Washington Post, the footwear brand struggled to keep up with the demand.

For context, the brand reached US$847 million (~ S$1.17 billion) in profits in 2007.

And when production finally caught up, the company ended up with “mountains of shoes” that nobody wanted to buy and lost about S$255 million just as the world entered the 2008 financial crisis.

The Guardian reported that in 2009, Crocs was forced to shut factories and lay off staff.

The future seemed bleak for Crocs. Yet somehow, it catapulted to mainstream success once again.

Photo by Mandy How.

… but how?

We tried to get answers straight from the horse’s (or perhaps croc’s?) mouth but alas, we didn’t get any response. 🙁

Here’s what we tried to ask the people at Crocs via email:

  1. What is Crocs’ target demographic in Singapore? What percentage of Crocs’ consumers are Gen Z?
  2. Has the brand changed its marketing strategy in recent years to appeal to Gen Z?
  3. Has Crocs seen an increase in sales for its clogs in recent years?

Anyhoo, we got some answers eventually, thanks to the internet.

Making waves in the fashion world

Crocs can attribute their resurgence, ironically, to luxury fashion.

No, really, how did something that looks like this…


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Crocs Singapore (

… get on the luxury fashion stage? This is how.

Crocs collaborated with Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane for his Spring/Summer 2017 collection.

The sold-out collection featured marble-printed Crocs with rough mineral stones Jibbitz (those things that you stick onto the holes of the shoes).

A pair of these Crocs retailed for €325 (~ S$461), by the way. Photo from Christopher Kane’s website.

On the collaboration, Christopher said:

“Crocs are arguably the most comfortable shoe, and I love that they are slightly awkward and might be perceived by some as ‘ugly’. They have a very naïve and childlike shape which I especially like when they look extra clunky on the foot.”

Spanish fashion house Balenciaga also has had multiple collaborations with Crocs since 2017—they were the ones responsible for the TikTok viral Crocs stilettos that cost around S$861.


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A post shared by HIGHSNOBIETY (@highsnobiety)

Other fashion collaborations in recent years include MCM and Lazy Oaf.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Lazy Oaf (@lazyoaf)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by MCM (@mcmworldwide)

Celebrity status again

Of course, there are no better influencers to the masses than celebrities, especially with the rise of social media.

Latin rapper-singer Bad Bunny released a collaboration with Crocs in 2020.

In case you don’t understand how big Bad Bunny is, the Puerto Rican powerhouse was Spotify’s most-streamed artist globally in 2020, recording 8.3 billion streams.

It’s no surprise that his Crocs collection was swept up within 16 minutes.

Canadian pop star Justin Bieber has worked with Crocs twice and the collections reportedly sold out in 90 minutes.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber)

The “Sorry” singer has also worn the Balenciaga Crocs on the red carpet in 2022.

Actually good quality

What Crocs lack in aesthetics, it makes up for in comfort.

If you’ve not tried on a pair of Crocs, it feels like you’re walking on clouds.

In fact, the online store has a section called “Crocs at Work” which lists its clogs (the ones without holes) as nurse shoes.

Screenshot from Crocs’ website.

The Babelfish team spoke to some Crocs-loving Singaporean Gen Zs, all of whom raved about the comfort a pair of Crocs provides.

“Crocs are easy to wear, comfortable and yet it looks like you are wearing ‘shoes’, compared to other footwear like slides, slippers or sandals,” 23-year-old designer Rachel said.

Singaporean influencer Xiaxue blogged in 2006 about being anti-Crocs and saying it’s so ugly that it is almost “socially unacceptable”.

Photo from @xiaxue on Instagram.

Here’s an emotional chunk from the blogpost:

“I don’t understand it, why are Singaporeans all so mad over Croc shoes? They say it’s very comfy, but so are bedroom slippers, why isn’t anyone wearing them out?

Whatever—in any case, they are f*cking ugly, and damn well near socially unacceptable.

As it is, Singaporeans are already dressed very horribly, and along comes another consumer frenzy of ugly products! I CANNOT STAND IT ANYMORE! WHY DO ONLY THE UGLY PRODUCTS GET SO POPULAR?”

Oh, how the tables have turned.

No prizes for guessing who this pair of Crocs belongs to:

“Look, it says ‘Xiaxue’ with a verified tick hahahhaha,” she told us. Photo courtesy of Xiaxue.

“Nowadays, I’m always in my Crocs […] It’s the most comfy shit ever,” she told us.

Apart from comfort, it was also partly due to FOMO (fear of missing out) and the fact that it is so customisable.

“My friends all started wearing them and one day I noticed that everyone had customised charms on them. I love being able to customise stuff so I went to buy a pair too and had a lot of fun going online to find charms.”

Don’t get her wrong though, she still finds Crocs ugly.

“Still ugly but it’s fun and everyone ugly together lol,” Xiaxue said.

Similar looking shoes

You know how they say imitation is the highest form of flattery?

Well, Crocs should really feel flattered because there are so many similar-looking shoes in the market right now.

Now, I’m not saying these brands copied Crocs, but we’ll let these images do the talking.

Skechers’ Foamies


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Skechers SG (@skecherssg)

This line of shoes is made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), the same material used to make flip-flops and swimming kickboards.

It also has drainage holes and comes in a variety of colours.

Vans’ Slip-on TRK

Photo from Vans’ website.

These slip-on sandals come in a variety of bright colours, have drainage holes and are made of synthetic material.

Branded names aside, it is also very easy to find Crocs-like shoes at a small fraction of the original price on e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Shopee.

Xiaxue, for one, has no qualms admitting that her Crocs are imitations that she got from Taobao for a grand total of S$5.

Is it here to stay?

Despite the variety of options now, most of the Gen Zs I talked to continue to be loyal supporters of Crocs:

“It [brands offering similar footwear] is exactly the same as Crocs — it’s so ugly — but I will still purchase and go for the original Crocs.” – Melody Kong, 21, student

“The other brands can’t really match with the Crocs design […] it is more in trend and they’re releasing a lot more cool colours that are very attractive.” – Rachel, 23, designer

“I personally wouldn’t buy other brands as it’s trending because of the branding.” – Lim Xin Ying, 20, lab analyst

Special mention, to the Jibbitz, which allows those who wear Crocs to add a dash of personality to an otherwise strange-looking pair of shoes.

Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

As Janelle Pang, a 19-year-old student, says: “I like Crocs as it allows one to express their own identity and individuality with the Jibbitz.”

Like the amphibian it was named after, the brand has learnt to adapt to the changing times and has come up with a diverse range of styles to cater to different demographics.

As an older Gen Z who owns three pairs of Crocs (the Classic Crocs Sandal, Hiker Clog and Crocs Tulum Sandals, thanks for asking), I think this time, the Crocs trend is here to stay.

But you should really reconsider taking fashion predictions seriously from someone who wears her Crocs with socks.

Top image from Fasiha Nazren and Mandy How.

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