Bloated and rough old shoes, furry sandals, weird open-toed boots… Fashion groups use ugly shoes as their selling point, leading an irresistible new trend.
| Is ugly a kind of cool?
Go to Doris Bar and look at the guys on the feet of the people next to the bar, and you can feel the tenacious vitality of ugly shoes. A bearded man in a neon ’80s jacket and beach sandals on bare feet, another in sandals, apparently waiting for a friend. The bartender was a 24-year-old girl with fringed black hair and bangs bleached white. She said that customers love ugly shoes, such as colorful Tawa, Birkenstock and Crocs in summer, and ugly snow boots with fur in winter. She said that “ugliness is also a kind of cool”.
The “ugly fashion” that despises aesthetics and frees oneself may not be new, but now, because of the new crown epidemic and home isolation, people no longer need to stuff their feet into those thick and thin high heels, loafers, wingtip shoes, Oxford shoes or ballet shoes Flats too. There’s an unabashed love for practical shoes that free your feet. Shoes that were once designed for surfers, errand runners and foot patients are now a favorite of white-collar workers and even catwalk models. It can be said that “where there are trendy people, there are ugly shoes”.
The fashion world is filled with a trend of “ugly to the extreme natural trend”: Adidas coconut clogs look like two balls of rotten cotton, but they became a hit after they were launched; Velvet sandals, as if stuffing your feet into a mini fake blanket; Converse’s nondescript waterproof sneakers pack a bunch of fancy elements into rubber; Balenciaga inexplicably put high heels on Crocs, creating a stunning Confused high-heeled clogs. “As an art, fashion should not only pursue aesthetics, but also question aesthetics.” Caroline Mayer, author of “Fashion Psychology”, said, “If this is the case, there is nothing wrong with being ugly.”
Following this trend, Brands that focus on ugly fashion naturally make a lot of money. Crocs, whose shares hit a record high last year, is expected to double its sales to as much as $5 billion over the next four years. In April last year, Birkenstock was acquired by a luxury giant, and the brand valuation is said to be as high as 4.9 billion US dollars.
| Ugly Shoes Empire|
A relatively small company has gradually grown in this trend of ugly shoes. Over the past 49 years, Deckers Group has quietly built a multi-billion dollar ugly shoe empire. The most well-known brand under the group is undoubtedly the well-known “Argo” boots. Whether it’s Long Island moms or seven-time “Super Bowl” champion Tom Brady, they all love these silly snow boots. Dekers Group also teamed up with petty bourgeois style clothing retailers such as Nordstrom to lead a wave of retro trends with Taiwa sports sandals. Recently, the open-toed plush sandals launched by the group’s Kulabura brand are also highly sought after by fashionistas.
However, the hottest star of the Dex Group at the moment is none other than the “Land Fly” running shoes. This shoe looks like old shoes, but its performance is comparable to Nike’s running shoe brand. Its sales growth is the fastest, and its turnover in the last quarter increased by 47% compared with the same period last year.
From the perspective of the executives of the Dekers Group, in the face of unpredictable fashion trends, if they want to develop, they must either follow the rules or make a fool of themselves, and they have obviously made a choice. The group is headquartered in Goleta, Southern California, where CEO Dave Powers worked for six years. I passed a studio on my visit and saw a rather eye-catching pair of ugly jute wedge-soled shoes. Bowers took off the shoes, with a dissatisfied expression on his face, “Too ordinary.” The implication is that these shoes are still too good-looking. Like so many rejected designs, this one seems to have no chance.
Bowers’ team doesn’t like to say “ugly” at all times. Wendy Yang, president of “Flying Over the Earth”, said that instead of saying that the shoes are “ugly”, it is better to say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Andrea O’Donnell, the former president of the “Brother” boot brand, said that it is impossible for her more than 40 designers to design ugly shoes on purpose, “It’s just that our design concept is simpler and more direct.” Powers is a little bit Don’t care about the word “ugly”. “I don’t mind at all if you call them ugly,” he says. “It just means they’re different, out of place but definitely fun.” In his view, making shoes that are not fun is a pain in the ass.
| Startups & Growth|
In the early 70s, Dex co-founders Doug Otto and Carl Lopke sold striped flip-flops in Santa Barbara, California, targeting surfers on the beach. In fact, as early as that era, they realized the charm of ugly shoes. At the time, hippies all over America were obsessed with Birkenstocks. In fact, the first pair of sandals produced by Birkenstock was a rehabilitation shoe, and the wearer had to hold the insole with his toes to prevent it from falling off. They wear this shoe, mainly to exercise the calf muscles. But somehow, the design found a market among hippies.
In the early ’80s, Dex executives took notice of Tai Wah. It is said that a tour guide had a whim and tied the watch chain to the flip-flops, and the prototype of Taiwa sandals was born. It took Dekers Group several years to obtain the license of the brand, and began to produce and sell Taiwa sandals with great success. In 2002, the licensing agreement of Taiwa expired, and Dekers Group decided to acquire it, and finally sold it at a price of 62 million US dollars.
In 1994, American athletes made their debut at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in Norway on the “Argo” boots. Dex Group has since acquired the “Argo” boots for less than $15 million. Brand sales were not optimistic at the beginning, until 2000 when there was a turning point. That year, Oprah Winfrey, the queen of American talk shows, grandly recommended this shoe to the audience on the show, making it the favorite casual shoe worn by Hollywood stars in one fell swoop.
During this period, the fashion circle also ushered in another eccentric and lovely waver – Crocs. These ugly clogs look like a pile of cheap plastic, but these ugly shoes, after their debut at the Florida Boat Show, became fans overnight The hot item that represents the cool spirit.
In 2012, British designer Phoebe Philo designed mink-lined Birkenstock sandals for the Celine show; Italian designer Giambattista Valli followed suit with studded Birkenstock sandals and Givenchy double-strap sandals; in 2014, fashion brands Mojie and Prada launched Taiwa fashion shoes one after another. As a result, Ugly Shoes has successfully entered the high-end fashion industry, and its brand positioning has also risen steadily.
Riding on the tailwind of fashion, the Dekers Group went all out and acquired a number of ugly shoe brands in one fell swoop. Among them, “Flying Over the Earth” and Coolabra both showed huge market potential. However, the company’s booth seems to be too big.
”There are a few brands that really live up to expectations,” Powers said
, “but others may never see the light of day.” There are too many brands purchased, improper inventory arrangement, and many difficulties in operation. Due to the inaction of the executives, the group’s original cash cow, “Brother” boots, was poorly publicized and its turnover was tepid. In 2017, the group began to make ends meet. In order to lead the group out of the predicament, Bowers began to integrate the business, sold the brands with poor sales, and closed the stores with declining performance.
In order to attract traffic, Bowers used a marketing strategy that seemed almost hopeless to outsiders but quite successful-he designed two of the ugliest and most nondescript shoes in history, a pair of “Ah” shoes with open toes and sides. “Brother” boots, a pair of Taiwa sandals with wool sewn on the upper. No one knows what the point of designing these two shoes is. Since the feet are exposed, it is impossible to keep out the cold, but looking at the pile of wool, I am afraid that I can’t wear it in summer. That being the case, why did you design such a ghost thing in the first place? “We did it on purpose.” Ball said frankly, “These two shoes are uglier than I expected, but it doesn’t matter, as long as they can attract attention, it can be regarded as stimulating ourselves.” The shoes ignited the major fashion media, and the “Metropolis” magazine used a striking headline when reporting: “Taiwan and “Brother” Boots Create the Ugliest Shoes in History”.
The group’s strategic attempts helped the “Argo” boots the most. Designers let their imagination run wild on the basis of retaining the core characteristics of the brand. In 2018, “Argo” boots launched a series of plush sandals, which are as comfortable as stepping on clouds when worn on the feet. After a small-scale trial marketing in Los Angeles, Dekers Group put it in high-end markets such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s department stores, and put it on sale together with luxury shoes such as Stie Weman and Tory Burch. Last year, sandals became popular all over the world, and the designer of “Argo” boots took advantage of the trend to launch muffin thick-soled fur slippers, which jumped to the forefront of the trend and were wildly spread by short video platforms.
”Land Flying” is another hot-selling brand of the group, which was jointly founded by a top cross-country runner and an anti-minimalism designer. Today, the “Land Fly” has squeezed out a space in the sneaker market dominated by Nike and Adidas by virtue of its light weight and cushioning advantages. The hard-core running shoes, which were originally only concerned by cross-country runners, have become a casual and professional fashion brand in one fell swoop. Last year, “Land Fly” surpassed “Argo” boots and became the largest source of revenue for Dex Group.
Of course, fashion is a reincarnation, and the craze for ugly shoes will eventually cool down one day. Bowers understands this well, so he has been exploring designs with lasting vitality. Tai Wah’s sales surged 66% last summer. For brands, as long as it is refreshing, no matter how excessive it is, people will buy it. Recently, Tai Wow has been promoting the way of wearing sandals with socks. I believe those European elderly tourists will like it.
”Wow, the ‘Brother’ boots, the early versions of ‘Great Flyer’ are ugly,” Powers said. “I mean, ugly as hell.” “]