THE HISTORY OF FLIP FLOPS
The use of the word flip-flop for thong sandals is a modern term dating from the 1960’s that describes what is probably the oldest form of footwear still being worn (the term flip flap has been used in various echoic senses since 1529).1 Flip flops have been around for at least six thousand years. As a point of comparison, primitive shoes are shown in rock paintings dating from the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 15,000 years ago. There are depictions of flip flops in ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples from about 4,000 B.C.
The oldest surviving examples of thongs were made from papyrus leaves circa 1,500 B.C., which are on display in the British Museum. Early flip flops were made from a multitude of materials. Ancient Egyptian sandals were made from papyrus and palm leaves; rawhide was used by the Masai in Africa; wooden sandals were made in India; rice straw was used in China and Japan; the leaves of the sisal plant provided twine for sandals in South America; and the indigenous populations of Mexico used the yucca plant.2
Styles too varied with the differing placement of the toe strap, as subsequent civilizations preferred using different toes. The Greeks for example made use of the big toe; the Romans, the second toe; and the Mesapotanians, the third toe. These distinctive, physical entities were recognised and captured in Egyptian statues, and this was thought to represent the celebration of other cultures.3
Legend has it that courtesans in ancient Rome arranged the nails on the soles of their thongs to spell out follow me in the dust of the street.
The Nihon fuuzokushi jiten (Encyclopedia of the History of Japanese Manners and Customs) reports the wide use of zori (a form of flip flop with a thong held between the toes) in Japan from at least the Heian period (794-1185).4 Japanese children have traditionally worn them when learning to walk.
Given their long history, flip flops up to now have changed relatively little from ancient times.
In America, the first flip flops started to appear after World War II as soldiers brought Japanese zori back from the war, often as souvenirs. The precursor to the modern flip flop really began to catch on, however, when soldiers returned from the Korean War in the 1950's during the postwar 1950’s boom. Soldiers wore these predecessors to what we now think of as flip-flops, which were cheap rubber editions that frequently caused blisters and were so poorly made that they didn’t last long.
As the footwear entered into American popular culture, it became redesigned and changed into the bright colors of Fifties design. As “pop culture,” flip flops became defining examples of an informal lifestyle and came to represent the California lifestyle in general and surf culture in particular.
It seemed like all kids wore them to the beach or the pool and cheap rubber flip flops appeared in every dime store and beach shop. Over time, designs spread from rubber to wood to leather to bamboo and stylized platforms, yet all of them remaining true to the original base design of the early rubber flip flops.
Flip flops were mostly summer shoes for most of the country until the 1990s, when fashion in the workplace started changing and loosening, with experiments like casual Fridays and casual summer dress codes.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Flip flops have become part of the fashion landscape as much as athletic shoes, jeans and t-shirts. Now, many kids wear flip flops all the time, replacing their athletic shoe trainers. A large push of the conversion of flip flops into everyday life came from Havaianas, the major Brazilian producer.5 For over three decades, Havaianas were $3 Brazilian flip-flops of synthetic rubber that were the footwear of Sao Paulo peasants, housekeepers, dockworkers and other poor people. Like blue jeans in the United States, at one time worn primarily as working class clothing for miners and laborers, flip-flops transformed into both everyday wear and sometimes high fashion. Sales took off after supermodels such as Kate Moss began wearing them and then they began showing up on the red carpet. Flip flops now are seen on the fashion world’s catwalks. Manufactured in bright colors for $6 -$15 a pair or studded with Swarovski crystals for $150, they're showing up at the Cannes Film Festival and on the catwalk of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
The growth in flip flops has been part of a general change in fashion overall during the past twenty years, as it has become more casual overall for everyday events. Customs such as casual Fridays and a loosening in what is considered appropriate office attire have made consumers more flexible about casual dressing. Recently, there has been wide media attention in the US about whether flip-flops constituted appropriate attire to wear to the White House to meet the president. Twenty years ago, such discussion would never have been considered.
Youth in particular have led the casual fashion movement. Athletic shoes have become part of the dress code as have jeans and T-shirts, while baseball caps have become part of urban chic. Moreover, schools that have strict dress codes often have left shoes as the one area where students can demonstrate individuality since footwear is not always mandated. As fashion has moved in the direction of more casual-wear, footwear has also changed, driven by innovative and colorful athletic shoe design led by Nike, Reebok, Adidas and Puma.
Fashion has been the key market driver for footwear. Over the past few years, footwear has become a major fashion item – not just a complementary product to clothing. Color, patterns, fabrics and styles have become much more adventurous and styles change more frequently.
Black is no longer the predominant footwear color – indeed from an 80% participation level in 1999, black has fallen to around 30%.6
It is difficult to find accurate statistics on the size of the flip-flop market in the US. Currently, the US market for footwear is $45 billion7 and the US market for flip-flops is estimated at $2 billion retail.8 The vast majority of these are basic flip flops priced below $50 per pair. The market size for high end flip flops is estimated to be some 10% of the overall market – or some 20 million pairs per year.
To give perspective on the overall size of the flip-flop market: the US population is currently 296 million.9 If the bulk of flip-flop purchases are made by those between the ages of 5 and 50, this is roughly a consumer population of 200 million. Assuming that this group on average buys one pair of flip-flops every year (some own none; others purchase multiple pairs), this suggests a base annual US market of 200 million pairs. Since the US flip-flop market is estimated at $2 billion, this provides an average retail price of some $10 per pair, which seems reasonable and takes into account everything from $5 Wal-Mart specials to designer Gucci’s at over $200. This estimated market also ties with reports that Havaianas, which exports over 20 million pairs per year, is the largest branded producer with market share of 6% to 10%.
In addition to the above numbers, it is also estimated that there are millions of pairs of cheaper flip flops produced for sale at less than $5 per pair.
THE NEWEST FLIP FLOP - PêcheBlu
We thought flip flops needed to evolve to the next level as athletic shoes did starting when Nike, Reebok, Adidas and Puma led the revolution in design. Flip flops, it seemed, never seemed to truly catch up. But we at PêcheBlu™ thought they should. We also thought that once consumers started to accept sports flip-flops as comfortable fashion that was better for their feet, they would begin purchasing multiple pairs per season as they currently do with athletic shoes, T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps.
While there are numerous lifestyle brands producing athletic footwear, few, if any, focus specifically on flip-flops and none use the widely popular footwear as a basis for add-on products. Most major producers sell flip flops as addendums to their other lines without focusing on such a relatively small percentage of overall revenue. There are a number of smaller companies where flip-flops constitute an important part of sales; however, many are now corporate divisions without the flexibility or dynamism of an independent enterprise. Many of the products are derivative from a style point of view: mostly monochromatic in dark browns, grays and blacks, with minor detailing on the strap. Women’s fashion flip-flops tend to be more colorful, but often resort to gluing plastic fruits or sequins to the straps – as opposed to intrinsic styling based on the flip-flop itself. We think that is dumb and dumber.
So PêcheBlu™ began as a new kind of flip flop, the sports flip flop. We applied state-of-the-art athletic shoe design to flip flops, combining the support of an athletic shoe base with the comfort of a flip flop strap. Since flip flops have become all day wear for many, we designed our high-end line to move with the foot’s anatomy using a hard outside rubber shell and soft inside rubber. We found the best athletic shoe designer in New York, who had previously worked for New Balance and Tod’s, and used fashion colors to match modern lifestyles.
The sound we love is the “ahh” we hear when someone first tries on and experiences the comfort of PêcheBlu™ flip flops after walking in flat ones all day.
What differentiates our flip flops from all the other flip flops is our use of technology. PêcheBlu™ flip flops advanced, patent pending hard rubber Z-FLEX lug design provides stability that moves with the musculature of the foot. Only the “Z” touches the ground. The tough outside shell reduces abrasion and is non-slip and non-marking. Soft antibacterial footbeds with arch supports, heel wells and beautiful grooved anti-slip surfaces cushion and support the foot. Flip flops have a subtle rounded edge wall to protect toes from sliding off. Padded toe straps reduce friction for greater comfort. Elegant Nubuck uppers coordinate with the overall sports design.
We are trying to change how people think of flip flops. Ours are especially designed for:
- Sports competitors who rely on their feet, whether basketball, tennis, hockey, football, soccer, lacrosse, skateboarding, skating, blading, skiing, snowboarding, sailing, climbing, golf, rugby, crew, volleyball, even fencing, ping pong, karate, judo, and hiking. You are at a competitive disadvantage with tired feet, even if you are unaware they are tired. Traditional flat rolled out flip flops cause foot fatigue – PêcheBlu™ sports sandals and flip flops help prevent it. A tenth of second can be the difference between first and last place. You need to train smarter even off the playing field with PêcheBlu™.
- Travelers and vacationers who do a lot of walking and want to prevent the foot fatigue from traditional flat flips.
- City dwellers who walk cement sidewalks, stairs, and city streets.
- Outdoor people who travel terrain from beaches to rocks, to dirt roads to highways, and who want comfort, cushioning and more support with the comfort of a flip flop strap.
- Older feet, for whom comfort and support is even more important.
- Younger wearers, where better support in their teens and twenties can prevent foot problems later.
1 Online Etymology Dictionary
2 Cameron Kippen, Dept of Podiatry, Curtin University of Technology, Perth
4 Jordan Sand, Internet email.
5 Havaianas is the world’s predominant brand name flip-flop firm, producing over 100 million pair a year and exporting some 20 million pair. Their focus is cheaper rubber varieties except for exporting certain high fashion items costing $100-plus.
6 Source: Verdict on Footwear Retailers 2004 (Verdict Research, are leading retail analysts and consultants in the UK and Europe)
7 Euromonitor, 2005.
8 "Flip-flops are holding up the casual end of the market," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group in New York. "The casual sandal market is a $1.8 billion business, up 22 percent overall this year , and it's almost entirely flip-flops.”
9 US Census Bureau, April 2005.