If you’re a Crocs fan, you’re probably the kind of person who prioritizes comfort over style.
Sure, Crocs has gone beyond its iconic brightly colored clog with more stylish options over the years–jelly sandals in pastels for the ladies, canvas boat shoes for the guys. But you don’t wear Crocs because you want to be fashion forward. You wear Crocs because they keep your feet feeling massaged and ventilated, so you can get through a busy day without any aches or blisters, thanks to the brand’s proprietary technology, Croslite, that is made of a soft, shock-absorbing foam resin.
Well, Crocs has some big news for its fans. It has found a way to make the shoes even more comfortable. In its first major innovation in 16 years, Crocs has created a new material, called LiteRide, that the brand says is even more comfortable than its original technology. LiteRide is 25% lighter and 40% softer than Croslite, while still providing shock absorption and support. The brand developed a “closed-cell” foam, which basically means the shoe is made up of tiny bubbles. I tried on an early sample of the shoe, and I can attest that it is so light that it really does feel like you are walking on air. It makes you feel like you are bouncing a little with every step, while the material cradles your foot.
The new technology will be incorporated into a new line of shoes coming out today. This collection is a slightly sleeker and more modern twist on Crocs’ classic shoe silhouettes. There is a streamlined clog that looks sportier than the traditional Crocs clog, as well as a flip-flop, a sneaker, a slide, a platform sandal, and a boat shoe. These shoes are priced between $45 and $65, which is about 15% more expensive than the traditional shoes outfitted with Croslite technology.
“We definitely see this as our premium offering,” says Michelle Poole, SVP of global product and marketing. “It’s like the difference between a wool and cashmere sweater. There will always be a need for a wool sweater, but cashmere is even better.”
Improving What Works
The new technology has been two years in the making. In 2016, Poole set out to create an innovation division at Crocs, where a team could work on longer-term, exploratory projects without the stresses of having to design for an immediate collection. She enlisted Stefano Ferniani, who has been working on product development for over a decade, to be in charge as senior director of global innovation.
Ferniani focused on developing a product that was akin to Croslite–which has been a massive hit for the company–but that improved on the things that customers love about it: the softness, the lightness, the bounciness. The brand blind-tested many new materials on dozens of customers before settling on what became LiteRide. “If a prototype got anything less than an enthusiastic response, we didn’t bother pursuing it,” Ferniani says.
It was important to Poole and Ferniani that the comfort in the technology was instantly recognizable from the time you saw the shoe or picked it up from a shelf. “The customer now really wants comfort,” Poole says. “We didn’t want to tell a complicated story about all the technology that goes into these shoes. We wanted it to be so obvious that the customer could immediately see what we were offering.”
So if Crocs is making the case that these current LiteRide shoes are a vast improvement over the existing Croslite technology, why continue making Croslite shoes? Poole says Crocs has developed such a loyal following of customers who are attached to the brand’s original offering that it would seem like an anathema to them to take those products off the market. While Crocs has seen declining sales in recent years, it is still a force to be reckoned with in the market. It makes more than a billion dollars in revenue annually, which translates into tens of millions of shoes sold worldwide. Half of these sales come from the iconic clogs, which have been embraced by everyone from kids to nurses to chefs to athletes.
However, Poole says the brand’s goal is to serve its loyal fans while also introducing them to new products–and potentially also converting new consumers. This new collection is specifically targeted toward people who are drawn to the “athleisure” movement in fashion, which is all about introducing activewear into everyday life. The pieces are designed to look–and feel–appropriate with the yoga pants and joggers that have become the casual uniform in many cities.
Poole doesn’t believe that Crocs will ever let go of its original Croslite line, but she says that if LiteRide takes off, the company will introduce the technology into more of its shoes. “LiteRide is like the Intel chip,” Poole says. “We can stick it into any of our shoes to upgrade the technology.”