Havaianas: how the fuck did that happen?

I was walking home today when I noticed a bloke wearing Havaianas:



(None of these is the bloke I saw.)

Then it occurred to me that these flip-flops (or thongs for the Australian amongst you. Oddly, Australians also call G-strings ‘thongs’, as do Americans. Stick to flip-flops, guys; we invented the fucking language so you wouldn’t get all snarled up in such confusions) are a great example of a product that is virtually identical to all the others in the category yet seems to have some sort of superiority that exists almost entirely through its branding.

Now, if I were Dave Trott or Rory Sutherland I could analyse seven shades of shit out of this odd set of circumstances, but as it is I’m going to see if I can cobble together some sort of explanation as I watch Good Morning Vietnam at the end of a busy day (RIP Robin):

Their only points of difference are the ‘wishbone’ toe piece (inspired by Japanese geisha sandals) and slightly squashier sole (a closely guarded secret that surely can’t be that hard to emulate). They used to be just like any old flip-flop, but in the 1990s the decision was made to rebrand them as a fashion accessory. A HuffPo article on the subject says:

The label looked to inventive wearers who had long been transforming their bicolour sandals into single colour ones by flipping the white-topped sole over. In 1994, Havaianas introduced a new line of one-shade sandals in black, royal blue, pink and purple.

Suddenly, middle- and upper-class Brazilians who either wouldn’t have been caught dead in Havaianas or donned them exclusively for the short trek from their beachfront apartments to the sand, were snatching them up in multiple shades for all occasions.

People of all classes now wear them on all occasions, from Oscar red carpets to a trip to the beach. In Brazil they remain cheap enough for the less well-off ($5 for a basic pair), whereas they cost 5-6 times that in more interesting colours and richer countries.

But is that it? My own theory suggests that the little Brazilian flag on the toe part was the real stroke of genius: it gave each pair a recognisable branding so as the ubiquity grew it was obvious that these flip-flops were Havaianas, and with no other brands on the market it gave people something to aim for and ask for. Like Converse in its occasional forays to the top of the fashion tree, they became a great opportunity to wear something comfortable and easy on occasions that would otherwise require annoying brogues or heels.

So perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. I have a pair, and although I snagged them for free I do feel a bit better wearing them than any old pair that might have just cost £3 in Lanzarote. Maybe that’s my deep-seated wish to express to people that I have ‘taste’ and more than £3 to my name.

Whatever it is, the branding has worked on me and hundreds of millions of others across the world. Chances are it’s also worked on you. Why is that?

Comments 11

  1. Original Richard H wrote:

    I didn’t work on me. In the same way as Nando’s is merely chicken, Havaianas are merely plastic flip flops. I’m not being superior (not intentionally, any way) – I just don’t ‘get’ it. Maybe I have a defective gene or something?

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 8:19 am
  2. Wigan PR wrote:

    Originally Havaianas were worn almost exclusively by Brazilian workmen on construction sites. Then Brazilian surfers started wearing them and began doing the trick of switching soles with each other so that they’d be two-tone.

    As we know with a number of brands, as soon as surfers/skaters do something, it then becomes cool. And then the next thing you know, bankers and geography teachers across the land are wearing Vans/Converse/Dickies/Havaianas etc.

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 9:35 am
  3. Butterbean wrote:

    Certain brands, however fashionable, maintain a slightly undignified quality to them.

    Flip flops are a great example. Giant Beats headphones another. Even oversized Ray Ban aviators.

    In all of these modish purchases, the line between ‘on trend’ and ‘bell end’ always feels perilously close for the average wearer.

    Products like these therefore yearn to be legitimised by a recognisably tribal brand stamp and the reassuringly status conferring price premium that comes with it.

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 10:12 am
  4. Grumpy Old Git wrote:

    Same shit but just different enough for people to latch onto.

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 1:18 pm
  5. Bob Plank wrote:

    People are sheep.

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 1:25 pm
  6. Dickhead wrote:

    Affordable conformity.

    Posted 13 Aug 2014 at 9:40 pm
  7. Shaba wrote:

    Havaianas remind me of holidays.

    Sometimes, in winter, I’ll put sun cream on my arm so I can sniff it and pretend it’s summer.

    Also, slight digression, do you think that, because of his name and high profile, Tom Petty has to go out of his way to not come across as petty in real life?

    Like, if you saw him in a bar and asked to try his beer he’d have to begrudgingly agree?

    Posted 14 Aug 2014 at 12:45 am
  8. Alan wrote:

    This blog got poo quick

    Posted 14 Aug 2014 at 3:25 pm
  9. Dave Lickfanny wrote:

    @ Shaba
    I go out of my way not to live up to my name so maybe Tom Petty does too.

    Posted 14 Aug 2014 at 4:12 pm
  10. It floats wrote:

    Safety in numbers. People know they won’t be called unfashionable if they buy Havaianas. I’d say they’ve nearly reached saturation point as Converse did. I bought a pair of Birkenstock to ‘rebel’ against Havainas but was instantly derided as being like an older uncle. In fairness to Havaianas they do last longer and are a lot more comfortable, but can we all have a new thing next summer please…and no not you Thoms.

    Posted 14 Aug 2014 at 6:23 pm
  11. ben wrote:

    Toms are already here. The tipping point is nigh…

    Posted 14 Aug 2014 at 6:48 pm

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