Brazilian sandal-maker packs wellies as it expands into UK

Known for its flip-flops, Havaianas is to sell boots when it opens its first London shop
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The Independent Online

Brazilian flip-flop maker Havaianas is planning a big push into Europe and will open shops in London, Paris, Rome and Lisbon this year.

Following the opening of its first European outlet in Barcelona last year, European president Eno Polo said the company will expand its products to suit the British climate with the launch of wellies next month. The stores are due to open by the end of the year.

The group's footwear is popular; gross sales reached 2.4bn reals (£894m) in 2009, up 1.2 per cent on the previous year. The latest full-year figures are due to be announced later this month.

Mr Polo said: "We want to prove to our suppliers and partners we can be profitable in the UK all year round. We can sell our products not just in the summer and we can prove this."

It has just signed with Selfridges to open an all-year round concession in its London department store. Its proposed self-owned stores will be around 4,000 sq ft. It is in talks with landlords to open in central London by the summer.

The company, which sells 218.5 million pairs of shoes a year globally, is part of Brazilian-listed footwear manufacturer Sao Paulo Alpargatas. The group also makes clothing and has casual shoe brands Topper and Dupe, which will be brought to Europe as part of its expansion.

The company, which has a market cap of 2bn reals, was the first to list on the Brazil stock exchange in 1906. It is now owned by listed group Camargo Corrêa.

In Britain, its flip-flops sell for around £20 compared to just a few pounds in Brazil, but Mr Polo said the price is due to the huge importation and distribution costs – all the products are made in one factory in Brazil.

"It started as a mono product for the working class in Brazil but now it is a fashion item," he said. "Selfridges would not stock our brand if we sold it cheaply in supermarkets here."

Mr Polo insisted that the flip-flop's popularity was not a fad. "They existed 3,000 years ago. Romans wore them. People at the beach will always want the lightest possible sandal. We didn't invent the flip-flop. We just keep adapting it."