By Juliana Tafur, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The coveted, colorful and comfortable Brazilian sandals ‘Havaianas’ have hit New York’s Fashion runways and are now being designed by top celebrities in London. On July 15, UK-based luxury goods retailer Selfridges will hold an exclusive live auction, offering customers the chance to own a pair of celebrity customized Havainas. Footwear legend Manolo Blahnik and model Naomi Campbell are among those participating.
The sandals, worn by Brazilians since 1962, are now featured with patterned soles, furry balls, high heels and bows in multi-colored fabrics. At a silent auction hosted by the Selfridges’ website, Blahnik’s design was bid at the equivalent of R$1,600.
The auction comes after Selfridges’ enormous success with its customized Havaianas pop up shop, launched last month. The shop offers store patrons 100 different sandal colors and straps, Swarovski crystals and even diamonds.
Customization of Havaianas was also a big hit last February during New York Fashion Week. Reportedly, the brand took over the backstage VIP lounge, where special guests were invited to customize a limited edition pair. Celebrities like Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Amanda Bynes and Michelle Trachtenberg customized the sandals with their initials, crystals and studs.
The international boom of the Brazilian brand is no coincidence. Its parent company, Alpargatas, has implemented numerous marketing strategies in past years. Since 2003 the brand has been a part of the Academy Awards, with exclusive sandal models given to the nominees.
Most recently, the company launched a campaign in European media promoting the product as a symbol for what it means to be Brazilian. It also made the sandals available at 700 Gap stores, where they could be decorated with pins and other accessories.
“Havainas is a brand that always tries to be connected with market tendencies and consumer preferences. This way we can always be the preferred brand,” says Carla Schmitzberger, Sandals Director for Havaianas. “Our vision for the future is for Havaianas to continue to grow around the world, to be the pride of all Brazilians and to become bigger with time.”
For the first quarter of the year, Alpargatas reported R$22.6 million for sandal sales in the U.S. and Europe. This represents an increase of more than 200 percent in relation to the same period last year. The company expects international sales to be even higher in the second and third quarters of the year, resulting from increased demands during the summer season in the northern hemisphere.
Locally, Havaianas started the year with the opening of Espaço Havaianas in São Paulo. It is the only store in the world where clients have access to more than 350 styles, including exclusive products designed for the international market. Traditional models start at R$8.90, while more elaborate designs go all the way to R$250. There’s also a special section for sandal customization, which allows various combinations of soles, straps and brooches.
Havaianas fever doesn’t stop at the store level. Custom-made sandals have hit the streets of Rio de Janeiro, where vendors like Marcelo Coutinho come up with new designs on a daily basis. Coutinho started to customize the rubber sandals five years ago, after fifty of his styles sold within two hours. Since then, he’s partnered with people from Italy, Portugal and the United States, and has sent more than 10,000 sandals abroad.
“I custom-make my sandals with anti-allergenic nylon. I cut the straps to create entirely new designs and apply the latest trends in fashion,” says Coutinho.
His sandal stand attracts locals and tourists alike. “I came here specifically to buy his product since I haven’t seen anything like it along the beach,” said 44-year-old Brazilian Claudia Mora, who bought two pairs. “I live in a city near Boston, in the U.S. There, people are going to be fascinated when they see my flip-flops.”