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'Hideous' and 'like boats on feet' but Crocs still march to domination over Timberland.

Byline: By Steffan Rhys Western Mail

They are the Marmite of the shoe world - you either love them or hate them - but Crocs are on a seemingly unstoppable march to footwear domination. With five million pairs a month tumbling from production lines, soaring sales, fan clubs, and even a new clothing range in the offing, the fluorescent plastic slip-ons are leaving more established shoe manufacturers drowning in their rubbery wake.

And all this despite being pilloried as "hideous" or looking "like boats on your feet" by virtually everyone in the fashion world.

Crocs recently reported a 162% surge to pounds 111m in 2007 second quarter sales, with profits almost tripling to pounds 24m.

In stark contrast, rival Timberland recently announced an pounds 8.2m second quarter loss and a 1.1% global revenue fall which leaves it facing a pounds 49.6m shortfall in sales over 2007 as its trademark heavyweight yellow work boots, once a common element of hip urban uniforms, fall out of vogue.

But according to fashion experts, the stratospheric rise of Crocs and the equally spectacular decline of Timberland are not related and the latter's slump is akin to that experienced by firms like Lee and Levi Strauss, both of which recovered.

So what is the reason for the sudden popularity of the Crocs brand, which, according to stockbroker Piper Jaffray, will see sales top pounds 407m this year?

According to Crocs spokeswoman Marta Williams, it's a mixture of celebrity and practicality.

"The first thing is down to the comfort factor," she said. "They are very lightweight and made from a resin called Croslite, they are odour-resistant, anti-bacterial and water-resistant.

"Another reason is the celebrities. None of them were sent Crocs, they bought them themselves, people followed and it became a bit of a phenomenon."

Davina McCall, Vernon Kay, Nicole Appleton and Kate Middleton have all been spotted in Crocs, while across the Atlantic, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and George W Bush, who recently wore a grey pair with black socks, are fans for now at least.

And the fad won't fade any time soon, said Ms Williams, referring to a forthcoming winter range that has already been bought by Next, an exclusive new You by Crocs range, which the company is hoping to sell at Harvey Nichols, and a plastic-inspired clothing range launched on Las Vegas catwalks this week.

And all this while Timberland's American website offers prices slashed by almost half and retailer Foot Locker last year offered a free pair of Timberlands for every pair sold at full price in the US.

But Crocs' success doesn't have the experts convinced.

"They are hideous. You may as well be wearing wellingtons. They completely ruin your outfit," said Elin Davies of Style Doctors style advisers. "They are popular because they are a gimmick.

"People have seen celebrities in them. They are not something a fashionista would ever wear and are not going to be on any list of must-buys."

Huw Rees, fashion presenter for Wedi 7 and Wedi 3 on S4C said, "I'm not a person who would wear Crocs. I'm not a fan of the style and everyone is wearing them at the moment. When you flood a market with something, it very quickly becomes not a fashionable thing to wear.

"However, I do think they really broke the rules when they designed them.

"At one time they were very cool because they were associated with surfing, long shorts and board sports but the minute you could buy a [fake] pair for pounds 6 they immediately lost that.

"I have to say, they do look like boats on your feet."

Asked if he knew anyone in the fashion world who was promoting them, Mr Rees replied, "No." But Crocs are finding plenty of support elsewhere, with dozens of online fan clubs all over the world, like the Swansea Institute Crocs Appreciation Society, which proclaims to be "for all of you Croc-loving critters who love nothing better than putting on your Crocs and going for a strut".: Torture for style-conscious:Fashion retailer Lee Bodenham, 24, from Porthcawl, knew Crocs would be a perfect punishment for a style-conscious friend. "My friend had a hen party recently so we dressed her in a gold scrunchy, plastic gold hoop earrings, a pink velour tracksuit, fake Dior bag and bright yellow fake Crocs," she said. "She said she didn't care about the rest of the outfit but hated the Crocs and really didn't want to wear them.

"That's why we made her. She is really into fashion and we knew that would be the worst thing to do to her. "We allowed her to take the outfit off after arriving in the hotel as she said it would have spoilt her whole weekend if she had to wear it longer. "They are ugly and in no way fashionable."
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 31, 2007
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