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Crocs reached new heights of popularity during the pandemic, and their manufacturer is suing other US retailers to stop them selling knock-offs. Photo: AFP

One sign Crocs are back in fashion? More fake Crocs – maker of the comfy clogs goes after US retailers to halt their sale

  • Seen on the feet of singer Justin Bieber and worn on the Oscars red carpet by musician Questlove, Crocs reached new heights of popularity during the pandemic
  • That led to copycat Crocs appearing, and Crocs’ manufacturer has sought to halt sales of them by suing 21 companies including Walmart for trademark infringement

The ungainly but comfy Crocs clogs reached new heights of popularity during the pandemic, not only as the ideal work-from-home shoe but as a fashion statement – spotted on the feet of Justin Bieber and on the Oscars red carpet, worn by Questlove.

With that popularity, however, also came copycats that have prompted Crocs’ manufacturer to sue Walmart, Hobby Lobby Stores and 19 other companies alleging trademark infringement related to the shoes.

Crocs said in a complaint filed in the US city of Denver that a “rise in consumer online shopping has enabled the sale of infringing footwear on an unprecedented scale”. In a separate action, Crocs has asked the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to issue an import ban of shoes that copy its trademarked name or designs.

“Crocs is increasing its focus on direct-to-consumer and ramping up its digital presence,” said Katie Abel, executive editor of Footwear News. “At the same time, it is decreasing its reliance on wholesale and cutting ties with long-time retail partners. That’s leaving some stores scrambling to figure out how to replace such a hot brand, and it’s likely that some may be looking to competitors and copycats to fill the gap.”

Crocs x Justin Bieber collaboration.

Founded in 2002 by three college friends who enjoyed sailing and presented to consumers as a boat shoe, Crocs quickly gained fans among nurses and other workers stuck with long hours standing upright before catching on with fashion lovers and the famous. The company, which had an initial public offering in 2006, counts among well-known Crocs wearers former US president George W. Bush, and entertainers Jack Nicholson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Cena, Shia LaBeouf, Jennifer Garner, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

The latest surge for Crocs was to aggressively target millennials and Gen Z with celebrity collaborations. In October, Grammy Award winner Bieber teamed up with the clogs’ maker for a limited edition shoe priced at US$60. A month earlier, the rapper Bad Bunny collaborated with the company for a special edition pair that sold out in 16 minutes. Other collaborators include actress Drew Barrymore and rapper Post Malone.

2020 was the ‘perfect storm’ for Crocs. Here’s why

That extensive brand building is one of the reasons, Crocs explains in the 108-page complaint it filed in Denver, why it deserves all profits from sales of knock-offs and an order compelling the companies to stop marketing their fake Crocs.

Neither Walmart nor Hobby Lobby responded to requests for comment. The remaining companies have yet to respond to the Crocs complaints.

Crocs has licensed its trademarks just once, to luxury designer Balenciaga, and the result “was a smashing success” with sales on e-commerce sites including Barneys New York, Crocs said in legal filings. Those shoes, which first went on sale in 2018, have thick soles and high heels, marking a style departure from the iconic clunky Classic Clog.

Crocs on sale at a footwear store in Chicago, the US. Photo: AFP

This isn’t Crocs first battle to protect its brand.

In 2011, the company won a rare blanket-order ban from the ITC on imports of knock-offs, after the agency found a design patent and a utility patent on making the shoes had been infringed.

The design patent expired in March 2020, but the manufacturing patent doesn’t expire until October 2023.

Balenciaga’s spring 22 stiletto Croc mule. Photo: Balenciaga

“These actions underscore our determination to take forceful steps to protect our trademarks and other intellectual property,” said Daniel Hart, Crocs’ executive vice-president said. “It is essential that we protect Crocs’ iconic DNA, and we will not tolerate the infringement of our rights or those who try to freeride on the investments we have made in our brand.”