Born as a Brazilian working-class commodity, the now omnipresent Havaianas have walked a long way before becoming the quintessential comfy summer slip on we know today. Their story began in the early 60s when Brazilian company Alpargatas, founded in 1907 by the Argentinian-born Scotsman Robert Fraser, marketed a version of flip-flops made with local high quality gum under the name of Havaianas, the Portuguese word for Hawaiians. With their first pair launched in 1962 and inspired by the Zori, a traditional Japanese sandal made of rice straw, its design was quite simple, white insoles, blue coloured outsoles and straps with a rice grain texture on the rubber soles. They first succeeded as a popular shoe for lower class workers as they were comfortable, durable and cheap. They could be found exclusively in small neighbourhood stores and from 1964 onwards, in many Brazilian towns throughout the countryside as a result of traveling salesmen who sold them from their Volkswagen vans as they travelled up and down the country.
Their humble origins made them known as chinelos de pobre (poor man’s flip flops). Nevertheless, they were very successful at the time selling a thousand pairs a day and becoming a national symbol for Brazilian working people. Although Alpargatas registered the patent of Havaianas in 1966 and they can be considered the original rubber flip flop, their popularity produced many imitator brands so in 1970 Havaianas came out with a new and successful campaign called Havaianas: As Legítimas (Havainas: the Legitimate Ones) to take on the competition. A bit later, during 1973, they changed their slogan to the more direct Protect yourself from phonies. Havaianas- the real ones. They don’t lose their shape, don’t smell and the straps don’t come loose taking advantage of the still secret formula of the high quality gum, durability and comfort characteristics that made them a big success amongst Brazilian popular classes. In 1980, millions of pairs were being sold each year and the Brazilian government listed them as a fundamental product to control inflation, like rice and beans.
But this popular success was not reaching high end customers of developed countries nor having any impact on the fashion industry. Their models remained exactly the same basic white and blue design for many years. In 1969, there was a production error creating a batch of green Havaianas which broke the blue and white monotony. When this haphazardly coloured model hit the markets there was a very positive reaction so the company started to produce brown, yellow and black pairs keeping the white body as a main feature. It was one of the first steps to move towards more on trend audiences. Also, 1970 onwards, the hippie movement helped to move Havaianas even further as youngsters and those more politically involved started to wear them as a symbol of freedom and also support for the less favoured inhabitants of the country.
Nonetheless, in the late 80s and early 90s the brand was in a crisis, with less influence on an increasingly globalised fashion market. They started to develop new styles in a brand building attempt to reach different sectors of Brazilian society and also different markets all around the world. In 1995 they launched Havaianas Floral, their first printed design with hibiscus flowers as decoration. The following year, they released one of their most successful styles, Havaianas Top. It started as a streetwear trend, inverting the sole to make the outsole face upwards and creating the appearance of a monochrome sandal. The launching of Havaianas Top was the starting point for higher social classes to wear Havainas and the beginning of their infiltration into the fashion establishment. Originally they launched this style in 8 colours; nowadays it’s available in over 15 different monochrome shades.
Due to the celebration of 1998 World Cup in France, they launched the Havaianas Brasil, with a small Brazilian flag on the strap to show support for their team, becoming an international success and meaning the beginning of the brand’s international expansion. One year after, in 1999, Havaianas were shown on Jean Paul Gaultier’s catwalk and made its own mark in the world of high fashion. The company started to work with some of the highest brands and designers around the world as well as widening their distribution in Western Europe, US, Japan… The brand can nowadays be found in more than 60 countries.
The new millenium saw the consolidation of the brand’s international prestige. With the support of many brilliant advertising campaigns delivered by Marcello Serpa for the agency Almap BBDO and an impressive visual identity based on pure intense colours and organic shapes, the company kept the track of innovation. In 2000 and to celebrate the new millenium, they launched the first sandal that glowed in the dark. A year after they gave birth to Havaianas Special Collection which further marked Havaianas’s presence in the world of high end fashion with exclusive details like crystals and metalwork. In 2006 the Havainas Slim arrived to the markets, specially designed for women they had a thinner and more delicate strap. In 2010 and with less benevolent weathers than the Brazilian one in mind, Havaianas launched the Soul Collection, a range of casual sneakers and espadrilles with the Havaiana’s character keeping the rubber sole.
We all wait for the first rays of sun in order to wear this iconic shoe on beaches, around pools or in far away destinations. Never has such a simple design brought so many different and original ideas. What will be next?
by Marcos F Gallego