Connect with us

Technology & Innovation

Why Crocs broke its classic clog mold for the first time

Diane Davis

Published

on

Crocs. The injection-molded foam clogs are equal parts design punch line and design icon, a symbol of ceasing to care about how you look for the sake of comfort. For years, I’ve looked at people wearing Crocs as many do: with a sort of jealous horror. And I’m not the only one.

“Love us or hate us, I think we relish in the polarization of our designs,” says Michael Sarantakos, the company’s head of global design.

Salehe Bembury [Photo: Emilynn Rose/courtesy Crocs]

But now, Crocs is releasing a clog that even hypebeasts can love. Designed by Salehe Bembury—a renowned sneaker designer who has created shoes for Yeezy, Versace, Anta, and New Balance—the new clog features an expressive, undulating texture, along with a full heel and a subtly tailored front toe.

[Image: Emilynn Rose/courtesy Crocs]

The Salehe Bembury X Crocs Pollex Clog, priced at $85, will be out December 14, and it marks the first time that Crocs has allowed a designer to reshape its classic clog. The company admits that the move is an open play for relevance and attracting the sneaker-buying market.

[Photos: courtesy Crocs]

“They’ve established an iconic silhouette. I’d argue there are only about 10 iconic silhouettes [in all of shoes],” Bembury said in an interview. “You can’t depart from that. But the question was how am I going to make this polarizing? How am I going to push the boundaries?”

Following a decade of stagnant sales, Crocs has come back to life, with double-digit revenue growth in 2019 and 2020. Thus far, 2021 is poised to be a breakout year, as Crocs projects between 62% and 65% growth this year alone.

Michelle Poole, the president of Crocs who joined the company seven years ago, has considerable experience in dusting off footwear icons, viewing them as blank canvases for cultural expression. “I worked at Timberland with the yellow boot, Sperry with the boat shoe, and Converse with Chuck Taylors,” Poole says. “One of the first things we did when I came into the brand was we needed to make our iconic classic clog relevant. That was the very heart of the brand turnaround. We didn’t have an awareness problem. If you drew an outline of our clog, I’d say it’s as recognizable as a Coke bottle. But we had a relevance issue, where people said, ‘I know the brand, but the brand isn’t for me.’”

[Image: Emilynn Rose/courtesy Crocs]

Under Poole’s leadership, the company cut back its product line, focusing mostly on clogs and sandals. In 2017, it launched a “Come as You Are” marketing campaign, repositioning the quirky clog as an expression of comfort, self-acceptance, and individuality. Crocs dipped its toe into collabs with celebrities like Post Malone and brands like KFC. But there’s little doubt that the Crocs style has been boosted by wider industry adoption of injection molded shoes by companies including Birkenstock and even Yeezy. (When Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, announced his injection molded Foam Runners onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in 2019, the public immediately likened them to Crocs with an endless stream of memes.) Couple that trend with a pandemic, in which the world began dressing for comfort first and fashion second, and the stage was set for a Crocs comeback.

With Bembury, Crocs saw an opportunity to widen its own market appeal by tapping into his passionate, sneaker-loving fan base. But like most collaborations across industries these days, Crocs collabs to date have been superficial. Crocs clogs were recolored and reskinned, sure, but they never broke the mold. Literally.

[Photo: Emilynn Rose/courtesy Crocs]

The company first reached out to Bembury to send him some shoes, à la any influencer. He responded that he’d prefer to design his own. Poking around Google images, he found a model that inspired him. But it wasn’t a stock Crocs clog; it was actually a Crocs children’s shoe with a different shape. As it turned out, Crocs liked that Bembury was already thinking about breaking the mold, so they penned a deal to work with him, offering a level of creative freedom that was unprecedented for the company.

[Image: courtesy Crocs]

Bembury began by focusing on that core Crocs silhouette, and how he could maintain its comforting familiarity while pushing the design language into new territory.

“One thing I learned from working with [Ye] was the importance of shape, so I really execute that with a lot of products,” Bembury says.

Bembury made only one significant update to the Crocs clog silhouette. He shaved down the front toe—which has a borderline anachronistic slope that resembles a historic, Danish wooden shoe—to read ever-so-slightly like a sleeker sneaker. This change required a tweak to the Crocs last (the proprietary foot mold upon which Crocs shapes its shoes), but the minimal update ensures that the new Crocs will still feel like the old Crocs.

[Photo: Emilynn Rose/courtesy Crocs]

Bembury did work on the shoe’s stability, giving it a bona fide heel, and updated it with a tough nylon strap that’s removable when you want to wear the shoe more casually. For the outsole, he reinforced the product with rubber on the forefoot and heel. Known for taking daily hikes himself, Bembury wanted to build a Crocs shoe that he’d actually be able to wear for everyday adventures.

[Image: courtesy Crocs]

Of course, the most noticeable difference is the new texture, a wavy skin that looks more biological than industrial. Those waves are actually Bembury’s own fingerprint, pressed onto three spots—the toe, the ball, and the heel. (And yes, Bembury has already heard the joke about using his shoe to frame him for a crime.) But this form hides function: Note that Bembury incorporated four large holes on the side of the shoes, similar in size and position to the original Crocs, to ensure they will breathe like Crocs.

The final product is priced at $85—which is about $30 more than a typical Crocs clog, but still inexpensive compared to the price of many of Bembury’s collaborations, especially on resale sites like StockX. In this sense, Sarantakos believes the partnership is a true example of democratic design. It’s not just a designer shoe sold on the cheap; it’s a comfortable shoe sold in the body of a designer shoe.

But with the collectible sneaker market as it is today, does Crocs really anticipate the new shoe to be widely available? Or will it be yet another exclusive sneaker drop that you can’t cop? “It’s that balance,” Poole says. “We want to try to satisfy as many consumers as possible, but not leave anything on the shelf gathering dust.”


Continue Reading

Technology & Innovation

Tackling long-haul diseases | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis

Published

on

""

Tal, who has been obsessed with infectious disease since losing an uncle to HIV/AIDS and a cousin to meningococcal meningitis, wondered what this striking diversity could reveal about our immune response to infection. According to one hypothesis, the wide array of these receptors is the result of an evolutionary arms race between disease-causing microbes and the immune system. Think of the receptor as a lock, and the “Nothing to see here” message as a key. Pathogens might evolve to produce their own chemical mimics of this key, effectively hiding from the immune system in plain sight. In response, the human population has developed a wide range of locks to frustrate any given impostor key. 

Wanting to test this hypothesis, Tal found herself walking the halls of Stanford, asking colleagues, “Who’s got a cool bug?” Someone gave her Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Previous research from Tal’s collaborator Jenifer Coburn, a microbiologist now at the Medical College of Wisconsin, had established that Lyme bacteria sport a special protein crucial for establishing a lasting infection. Knock this protein out, and the immune system swiftly overwhelms the bugs. The big question, however, was what made this protein so essential. So Tal used what’s known as a high-affinity probe as bait—and caught the Borrelia’s mimic of our “Don’t eat me” signal binding to it. In other words, she confirmed that the bacteria’s sneakyprotein was, as predicted, a close match for a healthy cell’s signal.  

Sex differences in Lyme infection

Until then, Tal says, she had never given Lyme disease much thought. But the more she learned, the more disturbed she grew. Even after timely antibiotic treatment, roughly 10% of all Lyme patients go on to develop chronic symptoms that can include crushing pain, debilitating fatigue, and cognitive changes that make basic tasks a struggle.  

This confocal micrograph depicts Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which cause Lyme disease when transmitted to humans by ticks. These Borrelia were genetically engineered to produce a green fluorescent protein.

COURTESY OF THE TAL RESEARCH GROUP

Perhaps even more alarming than the disease has been the medical community’s response to it. “I realized that there’s this public health debacle around Lyme, and it’s, for lack of a better word, obscene,” Tal says. Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, clinicians have dismissed their symptoms as signs of mental illness. The medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.” 

Today, there is no objective way to diagnose chronic Lyme, and no medically accepted therapy. For some patients, lengthy treatments with high doses of antibiotics can ease symptoms, but these come with their own serious risks. (They can, for example, damage the microbiome, leading to significant negative effects on health.) And because the antibiotic used currently only prevents bacteria from replicating, Tal notes, it’s up to the immune system to actually kill off the invaders. If immune cells can’t tell friend from foe, the utility of antibiotics may be limited. 

Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, the medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.”

For Tal, these revelations were electrifying. She dove into the immunology of Lyme disease, focusing in particular on sex differences. In one mouse experiment, she discovered that Lyme bacteria “completely disfigured” the uterus. Yet after delving through decades of Lyme research, she could find only one other study that even documented uterine infection. 

This shortfall mirrors larger problems in medical research. “We’ve let men dictate the direction of research funding for so long,” Tal says. Traditionally, studies focused on male subjects, and a 1977 FDA policy barred women from participating in most clinical trials in the US in the wake of birth defects caused by thalidomide. It wasn’t until 1993 that federal law required studies to include women and minorities. This, coupled with other sex- and gender-based medical biases, means that many female-dominated diseases remain under-researched. “So much of this research is being done on males, male mice—male, male, male,” Tal says. “And I’m like, no.” 

Tal suspects that the sex disparities seen in chronic Lyme and other pathogen-­triggered chronic diseases might come down to the fact that men mount a more robust response to acute infection. This no-holds-barred approach is risky—“Your immune system has the power to kill you,” she notes—but it may mean that men, on average, can kill off more viruses or bacteria in the critical first week of infection. After that window closes, the immune system largely settles back down, Tal says. Pathogens that escaped the initial blitz could take up long-term residence in the body, potentially causing persistent symptoms. And women have a higher chance of chronic illness.

Continue Reading

Technology & Innovation

The Download: Alabama’s embryo ruling impact, and remote learning for pre-schoolers

Diane Davis

Published

on

An aerial view of the burnline at the edge of The Crosby.

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The weird way Alabama’s embryo ruling takes on artificial wombs

A ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last week that frozen embryos count as children is sending “shock waves” through the fertility industry and stoking fears that in vitro fertilization is getting swept up into the abortion debate.

The Alabama legal ruling is clearly animated by religion. But what hasn’t gotten much notice is the court’s specific argument that an embryo is a child “regardless of its location.” This could have implications for future technologies in development, such as artificial wombs or synthetic embryos made from stem cells. Read the full story. 

—Antonio Regalado

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Remote learning can work for preschoolers

Educational interruptions due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war have affected nearly every child on Earth since 2020. A record 43.3 million children have been driven from their homes by conflict and disasters, according to UNICEF—a number that doubled over the past decade. Despite that, less than 2% of humanitarian aid worldwide goes to supporting young kids’ care and education. 

That may be about to change, thanks to a program called Ahlan Simsin, a special version of Sesame Street that has been custom-made for Syrian refugee children. It’s the largest-ever humanitarian intervention intended for small children’s development, with remote learning a core part of it. And it’s already yielding promising early evidence that remote learning can help young children in crisis situations. Read the full story. 

—Anya Kamenetz 

This story is from the next issue of MIT technology Review, all about hidden worlds. It’s set to go live next Wednesday—subscribe now so you don’t miss out when it lands!

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The first privately-built spacecraft has touched down on the moon
The Odysseus lunar lander has already started to send back data, according to its developer, Intuitive Machines. (CNN
There are more private landers headed there too. (NYT $)

2 Five charts that show how Nvidia took over the world 
It added more than $276 billion in market value yesterday, more than any other company in a single day. (WSJ $)
Its chips underpin advanced AI systems, giving it a market share estimated at over 80%. (WSJ $)

3 Mothers are selling photos of their kids to pedophiles online
This is a very important, but also very disturbing, read. (NYT $)
Five crucial takeaways from the investigation. (NYT $)

4 What it’s like to cry while wearing an Apple Vision Pro 
Kinda lonely, from the sounds of it. (Wired $)
What would wearing the Vision Pro all day do to our brains? (Scientific American $)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT technology Review)

5 Who actually wants an AI search engine?
It still looks a bit like a solution searching for a problem. (Fast Company)
+ Chrome has added an AI feature that helps you to write. (The Verge)
Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea. (MIT technology Review)
+ AI-generated videos are here to awe and mislead. (Vox)

6 A GPT-4 developer tool can hack websites autonomously
Not good. (New Scientist $)
Three ways AI chatbots are a security disaster. (MIT technology Review)
AI could help defend against security threats too though, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (CNBC)

7 What it’s like to hang out with the 46-year-old ‘anti-aging’ millionaire 
At a rave, no less. (The Atlantic $)
Longevity enthusiasts want to create their own independent state. They’re eyeing Rhode Island. (MIT technology Review)

8 X is becoming a bit of a hellscape  
Especially for famous women, as Bobbi Althoff has unfortunately found in recent days. (WP $)
Three ways we can fight deepfake porn. (MIT technology Review)
X has been removing accounts and posts critical of the Indian government. (Reuters $)

9 Humane’s AI Pin has been delayed
The vibes are getting pretty inauspicious for this product, frankly. (The Verge)

10 A startup wants to turn the sugar we eat into fiber 
Pretty neat—if it works as promised. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“The balance of power has shifted back to employers.”

—Laszlo Bock, an adviser at the venture capital firm General Catalyst, tells Wired why tech job interviews are becoming more and more onerous for applicants. 

The big story

The quest to build wildfire-resistant homes

An aerial view of the burnline at the edge of The Crosby.

DON BARTLETTI/LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES

April 2023

With each devastating wildfire in the US West, officials consider new methods or regulations that might save homes or lives the next time.

In the parts of California where the hillsides meet human development, and where the state has suffered recurring seasonal fire tragedies, that search for new means of survival has especially high stakes.

Many of these methods are low cost and low tech, but no less truly innovative. In fact, the hardest part to tackle may not be materials engineering, but social change. Read the full story.

—Susie Cagle

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ This ‘reverse packet ramen’ TikTok is mesmerizing.
+ These quotes have got me craving bubbles.
+ If I ever won the lottery, it’d become obvious pretty quickly. 
+ Here’s a fun challenge for you this weekend: try doing absolutely nothing.


Continue Reading

Technology & Innovation

Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers

Diane Davis

Published

on

""

Mariam, one of the mothers in the camp, has two girls, five and four years old, and her greatest wish is that they get an education. She herself stopped her schooling at the sixth grade. “Reading and writing,” she said through an interpreter, “is the most important thing in life.”

A focus on resilience

Sesame Street premiered in the United States in 1969 with a social mission born out of the civil rights movement and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society: to level the playing field for poor kids by bringing early learning into the home for free. 

The show debuted its first foreign-­language co-productions in Brazil and Mexico just three years later; there have been a total of 42 international co-­productions over the years. A meta-analysis of studies with over 10,000 children in 15 countries found that these programs have had significant positive effects on children’s mastery of reading and basic math concepts, as well as their social-emotional skills and attitudes toward out-groups.  

An Arabic version of the show (Iftah Ya Simsim/Open Sesame, which many of today’s parents in the region grew up with) ran from 1979 to 1989. But Ahlan Simsim is the first production created deliberately for children affected by crisis and conflict, and that necessitated some special sensitivity.

The social-emotional curriculum for the show had to be designed from scratch for the cultural context and needs of these children, says Shanna Kohn, the director of international education at Sesame Workshop. “We went in with the idea of a show that focused on resilience—a beloved Western concept. And we brought that to this team of academics and Arab advisors, and there was a lot of skepticism. There isn’t even a clear Arabic translation,” says Kohn. 

So the team backed up and started with the basics. They had to figure out how to present relatable stories—about Jad leaving home and feeling different from his friends—without introducing situations or concepts that might be triggering for young viewers. 

Elmo with children in a classroom in Saida, Lebanon.

RYAN HEFFERNAN/SESAME WORKSHOP

“Boats are usually a go-to for preschool children,” says Scott Cameron, who has been with the company for 25 years. “We avoided things like that, for obvious reasons.” They also avoided loud noises, like thunderstorms. They skipped nutrition lessons, because kids who are barely getting enough to eat can’t use reminders about fruits and vegetables. 

Kids who are traumatized often respond with an outward numbness; the research team found that the children were using only two or three terms—happy, sad, angry—to describe their feelings. To help them process these feelings and frustrations, the show defines the Arabic words for nine emotions: caring, fear, frustration, nervousness, hope or determination, jealousy, loneliness, and sadness. Jad and Basma model emotional coping strategies: belly breathing, counting to five, “moving it out,” “drawing it out,” asking for help, and making a plan. 

Continue Reading

Trending