Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Lowly Brazilian Sandal takes Giant Steps toward a Fashion Must-Have


Lowly Brazilian Sandal takes Giant Steps toward a Fashion Must-Have
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(2003/04/08)
http://www.taiwandesign.com.tw/NewsDetail.aspx?bid=B20070117002371


Lowly Brazilian Sandal takes Giant Steps toward a Fashion Must-Have

Holly Pope boasts a closet full of shoes and sandals that cost upward of $300 a pair. But the Malibu, Calif., jewelry wholesaler prefers her new $12 flip-flops from Brazil.

"I wear them everywhere," says Pope, 36 years old, as she wiggles her toes in coral thongs, one of her eight pairs of Havaianas. "They're comfortable, cute and they last forever."

In New York, Heather Strekal, 27, wears Havaianas (pronounced ah-vai-YAH-nas) with fancy dresses to restaurants, and slips them on each day for her subway commute to an investment bank. "I wish I could wear them in the office," says Strekal, who has bought three pairs this year at a Soho boutique.

Named by Cosmopolitan and Elle as one of summer's hottest items, Brazil's lowly flip-flops are moving upmarket and going global. They are selling well in Paris and Sydney. Ukrainians wear them year-round -- with socks -- prompting European distributors to propose a winter model fitted with a sock.

The success is a feat for footwear that gave rise in Brazil to the expression pe de chinelo, or "slipper foot," slang for downtrodden. For years, the Brazilian government lumped the flip-flops together with milk, bread and beans, in a basket of staples used to calculate the basic cost of living. Today, the main buyers of Havaianas, which cost $2 a pair in Brazil, remain coffee-bean pickers, stevedores and other blue-collar workers.

"I've worn Havaianas for as long as I can remember," says Gilberto Cardoso Dos Santos, 51, a father of four, who does maintenance work at a Sao Paulo soccer stadium. His black flip-flops are 2 years old and wafer-thin.

Havaianas made their debut in 1962, inspired by Japanese peasant wear. The name, Portuguese for Hawaiians, was a tribute to America's glamorous holiday destination. The basic design hasn't changed much over the years. What has changed is the new international appeal.

"There was no universal flip-flop brand," says Rui Porto, vice president of Sao Paulo Alpargatas SA, the Sao Paulo sporting-goods and industrial-fabric company that makes the sandals. "Now there is: Havaianas."

Havaianas owe their boom partly to free publicity from devotees such as supermodels Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Brazil's own Gisele Bundchen. Company representatives stood next to big-name designers such as Dolce & Gabbana and handed out sandals to stars at the Cannes Film Festival.

They are also benefiting from a general surge in the popularity of thongs. Flip-flops have come out of the shower stall and onto the streets of New York, Paris and Milan. This summer, they are the preferred sandal, with various designer thongs for sale at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Nordstrom.

The current craze extends beyond fashion-conscious women. Men are switching over to flip-flops. So are high-school students, as some principals repeal bans on the noisy and not overly protective footwear. The slab of rubber with a V-shaped strap clenched between the first two toes, typified by Havaianas, is the ultimate casual sandal, marking a trend where common-sense comfort meets cheap chic.

The Havaianas makeover started in Brazil. To boost profit margins in 1994, Alpargatas launched lime-green, fuchsia and other colorful models that cost twice as much as the original black- or blue-strapped sandal with a cream-colored sole.

Later, it introduced a feminine fashion style with a thicker sole and Swarovski crystal on the left strap. A masculine surf model with a textured sole soon followed. Middle-class Brazilians began wearing Havaianas. Even President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was spotted in them. Last year, Alpargatas sold five million sandals abroad -- up from none a few years ago -- and 120 million pairs in Brazil, twice as many as 10 years ago.

Smugglers beat the company to overseas markets. "Havaianas were selling for $50 a pair in Europe" in the late '90s, recalls Eduardo Bissoli, a manager for Alpargatas in the United States. It turned out that tourists were leaving Brazil carrying suitcases stuffed with the thongs and then selling them to boutiques.

Now that globalization is a priority, Alpargatas zealously guards Havaianas' newfound cachet. When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently inquired about stocking Havaianas, Alpargatas export director Angela Hirata told the world's biggest retailer that it was "out of the question." She adds: "Selling Havaianas in mass-market stores would depreciate the value of our brand." Alpargatas plans to sell a second-tier brand to such chains.

Meanwhile, Havaianas are selling well in Paris at the Galleries Lafayette department store near designers Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. Last month, 50 models paraded in Havaianas at Jean Paul Gaultier's Paris fashion show.

Havaianas are now offered in stores in 50 countries, most of which had never carried flip-flops.

Editor's Comments:

When a product wins universal acceptance across the entire spectrum of society, for reasons ranging from simple utility to sheer vanity, one is witnessing something marketing consultants lie awake nights dreaming about but dare not expect.

Levis jeans, which are worn by everyone from cowboys to construction workers to chief executive officers achieved this status a half century ago. Havaianas may be in the process of achieving this status today.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Lowly Brazilian Sandal takes Giant Steps toward a Fashion Must-Have
Illustration(s): Coffee-Bean Pickers, Stevedores, Blue-Collar Workers. Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Brazil's own Gisele Bundchen
Author: Miriam Jordan and Teri Agins
Affiliation: Wall Street Journal
Source: http://www.detnews.com/2002/homelife/0208/16/c06-557503.htm
Publication Date: August 9, 2002
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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