Vicki Woods: Are Crocs shoes as green as they appear?

They're hailed as 'earth-friendly' and 'vegan', and everyone from Hollywood A-listers to George W Bush is wearing them.

Sunday 26 August 2007 00:00

Last weekend, the sun came out for about 15 minutes, so we sat in the garden of the village pub with our coats off. When the landlady came out with our ham sandwiches she was wearing eye-popping sandals in shocking pink, with mauve soles. Crocs! Look at you! They're the only Crocs in the village.

"Tell you what," she said. "They're the most comfortable shoes I ever had in my life." And so fashion-forward, eh? Up there stylewise with Nicole Kidman and Teri Hatcher and – erm, Britney! She beamed. Now, I know, I know, that Crocs are last year's trend; I know they've slipped off the bottom of the Going-DOWN style register; I know you've binned yours already. But in my sleepy little corner of Hampshire, your celebrity-driven global trends take a long time to travel west of Basingstoke. So I praised her modishness.

But I was slightly bemused to see a picture of George Bush wearing Crocs on his (five-week) summer holiday down on the ranch. Bemused because (whatever you think of George Bush – and most of what I think is unpublishable) you have to say the guy's a dapper dresser. Texans aren't shy of male swagger. For white-tie balls the men wear hand-tooled, high-heeled cowboy boots along with their weskits and tails. (I've seen 'em, in Houston: it's called the "Texas tux".) But Crocs aren't dapper. Some would say they're pig-ugly, others say that they're OK for five-year-olds on the beach. Nobody would say they're dapper.

Crocs Inc's own advertising copy says their shoes are "soft, lightweight, superior-gripping, non-marking and odor-resistant". (That last being a very big deal for Americans, who resist smelly trainers in a big way and buy only the kind you can machine-wash.) They say the reason they don't smell is because they're made (mostly in China) of a " revolutionary" new material called Croslite. Crocs has only been around for five minutes, but they've become a market phenomenon, opening new global outlets and concessions by the thousand. Its quarterly results have been astonishing, and the company is consistently tipped by brokers and stockbloggers.

One tipster, who thinks Crocs Inc is "the next Nike", wrote on July 27: "Back in February, the stock was trading at $40, and now on a pre-stock split basis the shares are trading at $116, nearly a triple." I haven't checked the price since the market tumbled, though, so don't all rush.

Crocs Inc's own advertising copy does not say (but scores of eco-warrior websites and blogs do say) that Crocs are "compassionate" and "Earth-friendly", by which they mean that vegetarians, vegans, leather-loathers and Peta-heads can wear them with a clear conscience. Peta (those antsy People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ranks Crocs in its Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing and says they're "vegan shoes".

I'm quite Earth-friendly myself, and make the odd valiant effort on the recycling front. I'm compassionate, too: I deliberately left the handbag at home when I last interviewed Stella McCartney lest its leathery smell offend her. (Prompted by a recent Peta award and by the fact that her shop had a sign up saying "We'd rather bare skin than wear skin".) Alas, I forgot completely that my lavender-grey jacket was made of thin suede. Bugger. She said composedly that the colour was fabulous, but "some people just don't like wearing dead animals as clothes". When Stella told Giorgio Armani (with whom she gets on well) that she wouldn't work with fur or leather, Armani told her gracefully that he "admired her commitment" to the no-dead-animals thing. He has nice Italian manners. McCartney struggles hard to make her shoes vegetarian, using cloth, rubber, plastic. Instead of suede she uses matt elastic webbing; instead of leather for high boots she uses a "techno plastic". Her shoes look funky, but they don't sell in huge numbers (as do Crocs) because they're more expensive than most shoes (and much more expensive than Crocs).

"Techno plastics" are spun out of crude oil. The revolutionary new material Crocs are made of is "a proprietory closed-cell resin", and resins are made out of polymers, and polymers are made from crude oil. They're churning out 3 million pairs a month, which is a fair bit of crude oil, innit? They're not biodegradable, but they are vaguely recyclable, if that helps. So I'd say Crocs are "compassionate", yes, in that no animal's body has been ravaged in their making. But "Earth-friendly"? No. Which means they rather suit that ol' compassionate conservative George Bush, don't they? At bottom, he's all about oil.

Since tomorrow is a Bank Holiday, I shallbe feeling extra-compassionate myself all day on behalf of two rather benighted groups of put-upon women. (Or "put-upon communities", I should say.) One is the fast-fashion, High-Street retail community, who will be slaving away for (in some cases) less than the minimum wage in River Island and Next and Primark and Matalan and Brent Cross and Bluewater, while hordes of their unwaged sisters are thronging the stores and snapping up all the must-have schmutter as worn by Lindsay Lohan or Nicole Ritchie or Coleen or Kate. Retail is the new slavery. The poor little shopgirls barely get Christmas off these days, never mind Bank Holidays. I was in River Island last Christmas Eve in a moment of stupid desperation, looking for something, anything, for a god-daughter I'd overlooked, and the weeping child "assisting" me said she was "on till eight tonight and back in at nine on Boxing Day". I'll pray for rain tomorrow on her behalf. Feel I ought to.

The other put-upon bunch is what you might call the bridesmaids' community: all those twentysomething working girls whose best friend has finally found a bloke, set a date and spent the last six months deciding whether she wants to go all out on a "hen night" (which now lasts from weekend to weekend), or an exotic resort-wedding (which also takes a week, and with air-fares on top – and damn your carbon footprint). Most brides manage to be charitable enough not to do both a week-long wedding and a week-long hen-night. But all do one or t'other, and the summer Bank Holiday weekends are a favourite with brides. Less so with the bridesmaids, obviously.

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