Monday, October 15, 2012

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas?

Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas?
by Bevin Chu
Taipei, China
October 15, 2012

I've been wearing Havaianas flip flops for over a decade, long before they became all the rage here on Taiwan. I obtained them by mail order from overseas, before Havaianas established retail outlets here. Before that I wore traditional Japanese zoris, the inspiration for flip flops. I avoided conventional shoes whenever I could.


Because the human foot was never meant to be stuffed into a stiff, airless enclosure that causes bunions and athlete's foot. As podiatrists will tell you, bunions are completely unknown in cultures that do not wear shoes. Modern man's foot problems are the result of wearing conventional shoes.

Traditional Japanese Zoris

In order to expand its market, and sell more of its product, Havaianas waged a wildly successful public relations campaign to transform the humble flip flop into a chic, must have fashion item. It was admittedly promoting its own commercial interests. But in doing so it did something good. It made wearing more healthful footwear more socially acceptable, or at least less socially unacceptable. For this it deserves real credit.

Havaianas Top Men's Flip Flop Navy

But Havaianas quality control has slipped noticeably over the past few years. Brand new rubber soles emerge from the box badly warped and never flatten out. They were probably not cured properly during the molding stage. Also, the rubber straps often break after less than a year of wear. Other wearers have encountered the same problem, so it's not just my imagination.

Flip flops are consumables. No one expects them to last forever. A couple of years of life is reasonable. But mere months before a strap breaks is ridiculous. The sole should be pretty much worn out by the time a strap breaks. The phenomenon has me wondering whether Havaianas isn't deliberately forcing consumers to buy replacements merely to increase sales. The problem has gotten so bad, I might never purchase another pair of Havaianas flip flops again.

So what's the solution?

For me it is to forgo "brand loyalty" and switch brands. Two days ago I put in an order for several pairs of iPANEMA flip flops, which are also made in Brazil. If appearances are any indication, they are manufactured to a higher degree of precision than Havaianas. They are also made from different raw materials. Havaianas are made of rubber. iPANEMAs are made of PVC.

iPANEMA Flag Men's Flip Flops Navy/White

Havianas claims that the rubber used in its Havaianas flip flops, which is natural, has numerous advantages over PVC, which is man made. Do their arguments hold water? I'm not sure.

iPANEMA claims that MELFLEX, the flexible PVC used in its iPANEMA flip flops, is recyclable and environmentally friendly. It is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic. It contains no heavy metals, but is instead made with calcium zinc mineral salts, which are harmless to human beings.

Whatever the merits of their respective arguments, it is my understanding that PVC has significantly greater tensile strength than rubber. Will the straps on iPANEMAs be less prone to premature breakage than those on Havaianas? I hope so. If they are, then it will be "Olá iPANEMA, Adeus Havaianas" -- Portuguese for "Hello iPANEMA, goodbye Havaianas." I will know better in about a week, when they arrive in the mail.

I was surprised to learn that in 2010 iPANEMA sold 250 million pairs worldwide, beating out Havaianas by 80 million pairs. Given the depressing decline in Havaianas' quality control, perhaps I shouldn't have been.

iPANEMA is a much younger company than Havaianas. It was only established in 2001. Havaianas by contrast has been around since 1962. But iPANEMA's parent company Grendene has been around since 1971, and based on sales volume, Grendene is one of the largest shoe companies in Brazil.

iPANEMA definitely has Havaianas in its sights. Havaianas really should do something about the problem. Like Rome, a brand cannot be built in a day. But it can be destroyed overnight. Just ask Lehmann Brothers.

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