Havaianas: From Peasant Footwear to Global Fashion Powerhouse

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Havaianas, best known to the world’s consumers as the brand that represents the ubiquitous flip-flop, turned 50 in 2012. It was a year in which the Brazilian company made enough flip-flops to circle the world 50 times.

Carla Schmitzberger, who oversees the brand in her role as head of the sandals business unit at Havaianas’ parent company, Alpargatas, said that until the 1990s, “mostly poor people wore” Havaianas. “However, there was a small group of wealthier people that were wearing the product, but they were wearing them at home, and they were embarrassed to be seen with them because they were considered a poor person’s footwear,” she shared in an interview in the latest edition of Interbrand IQ.

Indeed, the brand was launched in 1962 with the goal of outfitting Brazil’s peasants — not by a Brazilian but by a Scotsman, Robert Fraser, who was inspired by traditional Japanese shoe design.[more]

Half a century later, the small sandal company has grown into a multi-billion dollar global operation, but not much is known about the Havaianas brand. Witness the lack of a photo on Forbes‘ billionaire profile of Dirce Navarro de Camargo, the head of the family-owned Alpargatas and the world’s oldest billionaire, who, passed away in her home in Brazil at the age of 100.

Brazil remains one of the brand’s biggest markets—including in northern Brazil, where the poor outfit themselves with upwards of 80 million pairs of Havaianas a year. But everything changed for the humble flip-flop maker when it repositioned itself in the early 1990s to be “more aspirational,” according to Schmitzberger.

“People were no longer afraid or embarrassed to be seen in Havaianas, and that made it possible for people of all social classes to wear them. The beauty of this is that the wealthy people wear them, and are proud of wearing them as much as the poor people today.”

The “democratic brand” has since amassed global popularity despite only concentrating on global markets as recent as the early 2000s. Now, a pair of Havaianas is sold every six seconds, and these days, flip-flops are far more than beach wear, resulting in ultimate exposure for the native brand. However, you won’t find Havaianas resting on their cushiony soles.

True to its roots, the brand, along with its parent company Alpargatas, takes part in year-round socially responsible initiatives that protect the environment as well as provide for Brazil’s most impoverished citizens. Most recently, the brand created limited edition flip-flop styles to celebrate Earth Day in partnership with Conservation International, which will receive a portion of the sales to aid in the not-for-profit organization’s work protecting endangered species and ecosystems.

In addition to remaining a go-to favorite for celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Gisele Bundchen, the brand has created retail partnerships with fashion houses such as Missoni, Matthew Williamson, Opening Ceremony (which tied its 10th to the brand’s 50th, below) and Jean Paul Gaultier, while it can be found in Bourjois Beauty Bar pop-up shops along London’s High Street and in the gift bags of the Academy Awards.

With all eyes turning to Brazil for the 2013 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Winter Olympics, expect many more colorful pairs of the ubiquitous shoe in the near future.

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