Crocs Not

At Daiso, Crocs found the Japanese retailer’s once two-dollar clogs to be imitative, and did not consider the similarity flattering

Daiso´s version of Crocs clogs seen at one of their stores last year. File photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD

The much-copied Classic Crocs at Crocs own store. File photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD

When we saw the familiar clogs in Daiso last August (top photo), before they changed from the fixed two dollars per item (mostly) to tiered pricing, we were curious if they would really get away with those lookalikes. You’d think Daiso would know better even if the clogs do not look identical, but it seemed not. A couple of days ago, it was reported that Crocs has officially put up a case at the California District Court last month with the alleged claim that the Japanese retailer was selling foam slip-ons that were “virtually identical to the design of Crocs’s three-dimensional design marks.” It reportedly also said that the former 100 yen brand tried “to free-ride and trade on the significant goodwill developed by Crocs through its innovative footwear.” Some serious charges there. But if it crossed our minds then that questions of copyright could have arisen, should it not have struck Daiso executives’ too?

For certain, inexpensive Crocs look-alikes are now really visible in the market—as in market stalls and HDB neighbourhood shops. And they are sold for what might be considered a fraction of what Crocs charges for their grandly-named ‘Classics’. At a footwear shop in one of the oldest housing estates on our island, you need only part with S$14.90 for a pair that looks very much like the Crocs Classic (and, if you are mindful of not wearing exact knock-offs, can choose those with square holes!), which is presently retailed at S$69.90 (standard styles). On Taobao, you can find a pair for as low as S$7.20. It is hardly surprising that Daiso’s then two-dollar version was appealing to those for whom branding mean nothing, compared to very low price. But did the Hiroshima-based “variety store” think that really cheap would not arouse the notice or wrath of the original creator who sells their clogs way dearer?

Skechers’s Arch Fit Foamies (women’s) in a familiar silhouette. Photo: Jim Sim

The Crocs influence, unfortunately for Crocs, has reached across footwear brands at both high and low price points. Its popularity was augmented when Balenciaga collaborated with the Colorado-based company for some “really cool” clogs, as described on social media, including one hitherto unseen at Crocs, a heeled version. One shoe buyer pointed to us that foam clogs have “low barriers to entry” and “can be found anywhere in China”. It is hardly surprising that many brands on the opposite end of Balenciaga have released their very own. One of these that has started to offer foam shoes as a product category and clogs with the rear strap that could be moved to the front is Skechers. Their women’s Foamies bear rather striking similarity to Crocs, except that the holes on the uppers are hexagonal, not circle, and there are 15 of them, rather than the 13 on the Crocs. And each pair goes for S$59.00—that’s S$10 cheaper than what Crocs is asking for.

It isn’t known how Daiso has reacted to Crocs’s charges, but this is not the first time that the American brand has brought its alleged imitators to court. Last year, Bloomberg reported that Crocs sued “Walmart Inc., Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., and 19 other companies alleging trademark infringement related to the shoes.” We are not certain what the outcome of those cases were. But years earlier, in 2013, French company Gifi Diffusion (describing its brand Gifi as “the French leader specialising in affordable goods for the family and home“) argued in European Union’s General Court that the design registration filed by Crocs should be invalidated because the latter’s shoe (presumably their clog) “lacks novelty”, having been around for longer than the period stipulated by EU requirements. In 2018, the Court concurred, thus backing the European Union Intellectual Property Office (“EUIPO”) cancelling, two years earlier, of the legal protection of Crocs’s shoe design. It will be interesting to see how Daiso will fight this out.

Updated: 15 July 2022, 9.15am