On a warm Sunday at Copacabana Beach, Brazilians and tourists alike cover the sand after days of colder weather. The Brazilians are fairly easy to spot just by looking down at their feet; the majority of them are wearing Havaianas.
Havaianas, a rubber flip-flop created in Brazil, are worn by people of all types. The fashion trend now transcends age, gender and economic class, as evidenced by the men and women seen sporting the flip-flop. The company sold 237 million pairs in 2015 alone, a spokesperson said.
“Havaianas are a genuinely Brazilian brand: democratic, fun, easy-going, and it’s part of Brazilian life, and also today the rest of the world,” said Chris Dell’ Amore, a spokesperson from Havaianas via email. “Everyone wears Havaianas.”
The rubber shoe was created in 1962, based off the Japanese Zori, and is made of rice straw, according to Havaianas’ website.
They started off as an affordable shoe for any economic class, gaining popularity as the company branched out from its original blue and white straps with white soles. Now the types of shoes available are practically endless: from shoes decorated by Disney princesses to the newest line of flip-flops released in honor of the Olympic Games.
“Havaianas are the face of people who live in Rio,” said Brazilian Marlene de Casreo, 57. “Every Brazilian native wears Havaianas since they [were] little kids.”
The Havaiana store near Copacabana Beach is filled with colors, lined wall-to-wall in shoes. At the front of the store, Olympic shoes are stacked in wooden crates on the front table, sporting the traditional Rio Olympic orange, green and blue, with the logo in the center. The recognizable “Havaianas” logo is printed on the brightly colored straps.
A big draw for people is the price. The solid-color Havaianas are 22.90 R$ online (about $7 U.S. if you buy from the Brazilian site).
“It’s cheap,” said Delano Santos, 26. “Brazilians like cheap stuff.”
Other Brazilians mentioned it was cheap, but no longer the cheapest, since prices had increased over the years.
Something Brazilians seemed to agree about was the general comfort of the shoes: stiff, comfortable and easy to wash off.
The latter is an important aspect for a city like Rio de Janeiro, which is surrounded by water and world-famous beaches. Laura Bechara, a 38-year-old from Brazil, doesn’t ever wear another type of shoe to the beach. On this particular Sunday, she was at the beach with her family. Her aunt and her children were all wearing the shoes in various styles. One of her sons was still young enough to be wearing the “baby” version of the shoe.
“It is practical, comfortable and very Brazilian,” Bechara said. “It is a symbol of Rio.”
She has about three or four, and when they get old, she gives them away. They never break on her.
American Angela Lokken, 51, noticed the durability of the shoes too. About 10 years ago, she purchased her first Brazilian pair — by accident really. She had forgotten flip-flops and just picked some up at a local grocery store, never expecting them to last very long. She still has those same shoes today.
“I like them, because they don’t break down like a lot of other flips-flops do,” Lokken said. “They hold their stiffness but are still comfortable.”
Following the 1998 World Cup in Brazil, the company gradually grew into other countries. In 2007, the brand officially launched in the U.S., opening an office in New York.
While Lokken can buy Havaianas in the U.S. (and she has), they’re not as cheap. On the U.S. website, a pair of citrus yellow Brazil shoes cost $24, almost $15 more than the Brazilian website when Reals are converted to U.S. dollars.
So Lokken and other tourists take advantage of the time they spend in Brazil, making sure to stop by one of the Havaianas shops.
For Santos, the shoes are just another product. He buys them because they’re everywhere and not because he thinks the brand is superior, he said as he and his friends walked on the beach, all wearing the shoes.
It’s just normal to him, but for outsiders, the flocks of Brazilians wearing the shoes is noticeable.
“It’s a brand that is a reference for French people,” said Garance Perrin, from France. “When you speak about Brazil, you think about Havaianas.”
Kaitlin Lange is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.
I’m Kaitlin Lange, a senior political science and journalism major at Ball State. I am finishing up an internship at the Indianapolis Star where I have focused much of my time on politics, education and breaking news. Last year I was the editor of the Ball State Daily News, our school’s student newspaper. I love telling people’s stories and also explaining complex issues in an easy to understand way. You can guarantee I’ll somehow find a way to bring up cats in one of my stories while in Rio.