Crocs co-founder Duke Hanson reflects on the renewed popularity of the shoe brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary with record-breaking sales in 2022.
Lyndon “Duke” Hanson III (MBA’85) has always believed in the versatility of Crocs.
“I never thought that the shoe was a fad, even though as most people would say, ‘they’re ugly rubber shoes with holes in them,’” said Hanson, who co-founded the brand with friends Scott Seamans and George Boedecker Jr. in 2002.
Since then, Crocs, Inc. has continued to prove that comfort never goes out of style. In fact, the company ranked second on global decision intelligence firm Morning Consult’s list of fastest-growing brands in the United States in 2022 (Meta came in first) after ranking 16th in 2021. According to a third-quarter report released in November, the casual footwear giant’s revenue increased more than 57% in less than a year.
The rise in high-profile collaborations is also a testament to the brand’s mass appeal: Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Diplo are among the long list of celebrities who have recently worked with the company.
But Crocs weren’t always a hot, Instagram-worthy commodity. Hanson, Seamans and Boedecker debuted the first iteration of the clog — known best for its iconic cutouts and for being lightweight and slip-resistant — at a Fort Lauderdale boat show in 2002. A few years of skyrocketing demand later, the company went public in 2006, but the market crash of 2008 and impending Great Recession forced it to downsize. As a result, Hanson, the last co-founder to remain on the Crocs executive team at that time, voluntarily retired.
“It was very, very hectic when you grow like a hockey stick,” said Hanson, referring to the company’s sudden need to cut costs for survival after a period of extremely rapid growth.
Despite the turbulence, Hanson was grateful for retirement, which enabled him to spend more time with family. He, his wife and his young daughter traveled extensively before settling in the Gunbarrel area of Boulder County. While Hanson hasn’t worked with the company since 2008, he has continued to follow the brand and isn’t surprised by its recent multigenerational appeal.
“The reason they got so big is they’re so comfortable — and the comfort shoe market is the biggest market for any type of shoe,” he said. “Back when we were blowing up between 2002 and 2008, [the growth] was driven by kids and teenagers and young people as much as the older customers who had foot and back problems that the shoes helped relieve.”
The reason they got so big is they’re so comfortable — and the comfort shoe market is the biggest market for any type of shoe.
And it still is, thanks in part to the company’s investment in playful designs and creative marketing to buyers from all walks of life. The shoes, which are still made with a closed-cell resin the company produces called Crolite, are now available in a rainbow of colors and a bounty of styles, from sneakers to boots and platforms to flip-flops.
In addition to collaborating with musicians and high-end fashion designers, the company has released designs featuring pop culture icons like Harry Potter and Ted Lasso and even food brands such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hidden Valley Ranch. It also offers playful customization options that promote self-expression via its patented Jibbitz charms.
“I think that the management of the company now has done an amazing job of using influencers and understanding the power of influencers in the marketplace, especially with young people,” Hanson said.
Hanson’s daughter, who is now 11, and many of her sixth-grade classmates asked for Crocs for Christmas — all while the shoes continue to appeal to essential workers and consumers seeking comfort and durability.
“Twenty years later and they’re still ubiquitous,” he said. “I do feel a pang of proudness. And sometimes [when I think] about the early days of the things that happened [at the company], to allow it to get to this point is very incredible.”
As for Hanson’s Crocs of choice? He’s a devoted fan of the brand’s flip-flops.
“Crocs are cool for everybody,” he said.