When you think fashion, do you think CROCS? I ask, because while they’re right up there in an exclusive club of comfort shoes that have wreaked havoc on conversation in fashion circles — along with UGGs and Birkenstocks — they’ve actually got a high fashion CV worth writing home about. It includes collaborations with Balenciaga and Christopher Kane — casual. Despite these creative projects, CROCS hasn’t quite shaken its “definitely-not-fashion” image the way Birkenstocks managed to a few years ago (Eva Chen actually wore Kirna Zabete Birks to a MET Gala 2019 after party).
The shoes sell and the collaborations are buzzed about, so what’s missing from the fashion recipe? A connection to culture could be the catalyst they need to shift perception. Enter Wanda Lephoto, the Sartists alum taking his unique perspective on art & street culture to the cutting table, and now, to CROCS’ distinctive silhouette.
“Essentially, this the first phase,” Wanda told me, in the Shine Studios courtyard just off Johannesburg’s Keyes Art Mile, with the collection displayed across the infinity curve on the other side of the sliding door. This first collection is a sort of consultancy, a pitch for what could be. It’s an interesting approach that shows CROCs is not about to burn through an influencer list for the sake of it but is taking the local market seriously by playing a long game with more room for local creativity to make a mark on the brand. “To change people’s perceptions on the brand, but also to try to get CROCs to find its own place within South Africa, and South Africa’s DNA & culture.”
Tied to the classic silhouette as his canvas, Wanda got creative but also highly directional. He focused on styles with platform bases and kept his colour palette down to just black, red, white, pink & grey, curating a capsule inspired by and complementary to his world. In addition, a capsule collection of clothes from the Wanda Lephoto brand provide an edited, androgynous world for the shoes to live in, focused on street culture. All in all, #CrocsxWanda is a collection of 10 composed looks.
The inspiration for it all? “My community, my environment, my family, my friends… I travelled to Amsterdam a while ago and someone said, most people travel to far away places to clap at things they ignore at home. That really stuck with me; I just start with my community, my friends, and that informs my choices because at the end of the day, they’re the consumer… why should I go for something so farfetched instead of what’s in front of me?”
As a member of the Sartists, Wanda is known for casting a flattering, nostalgic lens on what’s in front of him, creating work that defines and memorialises what looks and feels like home, celebrating every definitive characteristic. I ask him about early photography work that included a focus on tennis shoes and school shoes, and where his CROCS fit into that picture & story. “I’d like it to become that everyday comfortwear at home for the South African family; it’s affordable, it lasts, it’s sustainable, their approach is not as toxic as other brands. So there’s value in all that for us, for my people, my parents. My dad wears them; he finds them comfortable… That’s where it should be going, it should be going towards benefitting our people instead of just our people looking cool in them.”
Wanda gathered some of those people — young creative South Africans — for the collection’s lookbook, shot by Anthony Bila. Dressed in the latest Wanda Lephoto collection, models were selected from the local scene and posed for clean, beautiful, timeless portraits. It’s already resonating, worn by Riky Rick for an episode of The Voice SA, where he serves as a judge. Further connecting his collection to the world that inspired it, proceeds from the collection will benefit local charities.
The collection is available at CROCS stores across the country and online.