Brief history of the flip-flop
Jul 17, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Summer is here and thanks to an earlier post on Essie, our toes are sporting bright colors. These colors deserve to be showcased and the noble flip-flop has been the method of choice for several decades. These sandals have become such a wardrobe go-to, we grab them almost without a moment’s hesitation. For this week’s feature, we’d like to take a few moments to discuss the brief history of the flip-flop as seen through the lens of the iconic Brazilian brand: Havaianas.
The concept of a slip-on shoe wasn’t a new idea, in fact its roots date back to ancient Egypt, but a moment in 1962 would forever change the flip-flop’s trajectory. To understand how, we have to travel around the world, to a time in the distant past and re-discover the Japanese traditional sandal known as zōri. While the origins of zōri are less documented, we know that they were created for practical purposes. Japanese climate can be hot and cultural practice dictates frequent removal of shoes, making breathable, slip-on footwear a necessary invention. This elegant solution was usually crafted of rice straw and leather. Easy to create and wear – this was a shoe for the masses.
What does the name Havaianas mean? It’s Portuguese for Hawaiian, emphasizing the fun-loving spirit of this shoe!
Now, let’s fast-forward to 1960s Brazil. During this time period, rubber production was hitting its stride. In a moment of brilliance, the creators of Havaianas combined the structure of zōri with the cost efficiency of rubber manufacturing. In this flash, the iconic flip-flop was born. In a few short years, thanks to a dedicated sales team (who traversed the countryside in vans), nearly every worker in Brazil was a proud owner of a pair. Initially the color schemes were limited to a white sole with colorful straps, with blue being the first color choice. (Green was introduced next, following a manufacturing accident. Deciding to sell this batch of “rejects” was another stroke of genius as they flew off the shelves.)
By 1966 Havaianas’ patent application was officially accepted and an ambitious marketing campaign was launched. Momentum continued to grow and soon the rich and powerful were being photographed in their Havaianas. I don’t know of any other fashion brand that so seamlessly unites wealthy and poor. By 1980 the government included the sandals in their list of “fundamental household goods.” The simple blue and white sandal that used to be indicative of one’s working class roots, was now a hit with tastemakers. The popularity accelerated over the following decades as single-tone sandals and patterned designs debuted.
Havaianas represents the joy of Brazilian culture so well that in 1998 the company was the brand ambassador for their competition at the World Cup. Today over 60 countries sell the brand and over 200 million pairs are sold annually! Impressive results for a shoe that was once sold out of shops on wheels. However, the special quality of flip-flops transcends this one brand. It’s instantly liberating to be able to slip into a shoe and go on a last-minute adventure. That small thrill is relatable, no matter your background (even if you’re American “royalty”). Around the same time Havaianas were hitting the streets of Brazil, Jackie O. was vacationing in Capri. She bought a pair of whip-stitched leather sandals and brought them to her Florida cobbler. That is the origin story of the classic American brand, Jack Rogers, which continues to be a trendsetting label to this day.
From Japan to Brazil and beyond – the brief history of the flip-flop reminds us that good design doesn’t have to be high-brow and taking on a new adventure is only a step away. So tell us, dear readers, where are you going in your flip-flops today?