The Summer of the Flip-Flop

You can't miss them when you're walking down the street. Flat, high-heeled, basic and bejeweled, flip-flops are on everyone's feet this summer.

The thong sandal has taken the footwear industry by storm — flip-flops currently account for nearly 25 percent of the $7.5 billion sandal business. Their popularity, affirmed by the double-digit growth of the flip-flop industry, has caused fashion industry insiders to dub this summer the "summer of the flip-flop."

Once relegated to the beach and backyard, flip-flops are now a wardrobe staple. Styles abound: a search for flip-flops on Zappos.com, an online retailer that stocks more than 500,000 pairs of shoes, returns over 1,200 thong sandals.

Says Suze Yalof Schwartz, Glamour magazine's executive fashion editor: "There's a flip-flop for every occasion known to man. There are jeweled flip-flops, ribbon flip-flops, leather flip-flops — if you look down a city street, you'll find at least four on every corner."

Costs Can Rise to $500

Price points are as varied as the shoes themselves. Convenience stores hawk them for a few bucks a pair while high-end designers like Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo sell theirs for hundreds of dollars.

Marshall Cohen is a senior industry analyst for the NPD group, a sales and marketing research firm that tracks footwear trends. He asserts there's no cap on how expensive flip-flops can be.

"When you have a product that has such a fanatical following, there's no end," Cohen notes. "They have become a signature piece, so like with handbags, if someone wants to sell a pair at $500, they can."

While designer creations represent only 7 percent of the nearly $2 billion business, they influence the entire flip-flop market, spawning similar styles in lower-end stores.

Not Just For Hipsters

It's not just the young and hip who are snapping up the shoes — flip-flops have transcended all sorts of demographic barriers.

"Who's buying them? Everybody — male, female, young, old, 60 plus and 6 and under," says Cohen.

Yalof Schwartz agrees: "Every demographic is picking them up, from soccer moms to celebrities."

While women account for 75 percent of flip-flop purchases, men are jumping on the bandwagon, sliding into sporty Adidas sandals and sleek Cole Haan thongs.

With such widespread popularity, flip-flops are increasingly gaining presence in the footwear industry. For the past three years, flip-flops have been the fastest growing type of shoe, with the flip-flop market seeing double-digit growth each year. Athletic shoes, by comparison, grew between 6 percent and 8 percent each year.

The 'Thwack' Is Here to Stay

Cohen says that flip-flops have become a critical component of the footwear industry.

"We've seen this business go from a quiet thing to becoming one of the hottest things in footwear," he says, adding, "It's not going to go away. I see the flip-flop industry growing another 8 percent in the coming year, and that's on top of a growth rate of over 15 percent."

No doubt, Americans will be hearing the signature "thwack" of flip-flops for some time to come. According to Cohen, this summer has shown that flip-flops are here to stay.

"This is a lifestyle trend, not just a fashion trend," says Cohen. "Some of the things that you do to the flip-flop may come and go as fashion trends, but when you start getting used to wearing flip-flops and having fun with footwear again, you're not going to let it go."

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