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The Importance of Being Comfortable

It could not have been predicted, and simply would not have happened in years gone by, and yet it seems that we are becoming a nation who put comfort and practicality first when it comes to our feet! Not so long ago ladies would squeeze their feet into killer heels and pointed stilettos for everyday activities all in the name of fashion! The fashion used to be for dainty, movie-star, 'lady-like' shoes.

Over the past decade there has been a monumental shift away from a fashion which was, quite simply, painful and impractical, and women have been turning in their droves towards shoes which offer warmth, comfort and practicality but also, importantly, style! We are talking about the boom of brands such as Crocs, Ugg and Hunter which offer women comfort but also offer celebrity- endorsed style. So is it just a phase or is this is the way forward? We shall take a look at three of the leading comfort brands, a little more closely, and examine this phenomenon.

The Crocs phenomenon began with the development of an innovative rubber product called Croslite. A simple rubber clog was initially developed, intended for spa use, due to its practical functionality. Croslite clogs were found to have many qualities including being anti-bacterial, easy to clean, having an excellent grip and an ability to 'mould to the foot of the wearer' offering extreme levels of comfort and durability. Croslite was snapped up by an entrepreneur from Colorado who developed the Crocs brand and turned it into a fashion phenomenon that shook the world.

Crocs caught on in a big way, from a humble start of 200 pairs sold at a boat show, and grew exponentially. Crocs were first adopted in hospitals by health professional, and by other workers who stand on their feet all day but soon became a global fashion sensation. Their rise and continued success has been attributed to their strengths of comfort, being light-weight, easy to clean and odourless thanks to their many breathing holes. Crocs is now a multi-million pound empire and continues to go from strength to strength. Crocs were not exactly embraced by the fashion world and have been described more as a bottom-up brand. They were embraced by ordinary people.

Shoes are a commodity that we all need, and as such are especially susceptible to the so-called 'tipping point'. When enough people are seen wearing comfortable shoes others eagerly jump on the band-wagon. Fashion retailers currently report unpredictable times in the world of footwear fashion with one exception: comfort-fashion which is developing rapidly in a category all of its own.

A similar tale can be told of the rise of the Ugg boot. This is a shoe which was very much embraced by the fashion-world and on the back of which has become a fashion staple of almost every female in the country.

Traditionally the term 'ugg boot' referred to a style of practical, comfortable, Australian boots made with sheepskin. Uggs were worn by Australian farmers in the 1930s because they were warm and comfortable, and in the 1960s by surfers looking to keep their feet warm after riding the waves. The generic term 'ugg', which referred to 'Australian sheepskin boots', was adopted as the trademark brand 'UGG' of US manufacturer 'Ugg Australia'.

UGG boots emerged as a high-fashion item in the late 1990s and initially received a love/hate reaction. They were seen as a passing craze (as most fashions are) and it seemed that they came in for a season then went away again. It was only once UGGs were seen on the feet of style icons such as Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Mila Jojovich that the general masses started to wake up to their existence and people started to buy-into the celebrity look.

It is often said that once you put on a pair of 'UGG' boot you immediately understand the craze. UGG boots offer thermo-regulation (they keep your feet at a constant temperature) and are unrivalled in terms of comfort. Their pure sheepskin lining offers unsurpassed levels of comfort and warmth and this has been key to their success. UGGs have not come and gone but have, by combining fashion and style with comfort, continued to be followed by their loyal fans and attract new ones. Ugg Australia has cleverly expanded into the kids' and men's markets as well as bringing out exciting new styles on a seasonal basis. As soon as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, women everywhere reach for their UGGS and they are now seen as a 'must-have' basic for every wardrobe.

The very latest practical shoe to experience a fashion-led rise in popularity is the Hunter Wellington boot. Words traditionally used to describe wellies in the past included practical, comfortable or waterproof. Wellies and Hunter Wellingtons in particular are now raved about as 'must-have', stylish, fun and exciting! This humble boot has been brought right to the very front of the fashion world with the rise of the festival culture, having been spotted on celebrities such as Kate Moss, Madonna and Lily Allen. Celebrity endorsement in glossy magazines has been key to the recent surge in the success of the brand Hunter which is currently experiencing unprecedented sales figures. Hunter Wellies have become an essential part of 'The' festival look - worn causally with a super mini-dress or pair of cut-off jeans - setting a trend which is cool and yet super-practical at the same time. Hunter wellies are now taking the fashion industry by storm going into ventures with top fashion houses such as Jimmy Choo to produce special edition boots for the rich and famous. Whoever would have thought that this is what the future held in store for the practical outdoor boot adorned for decades by the Royal Family!

Footwear has always been susceptible to fads. Shoe fashion tends to swing dramatically between practical and beautiful, largely because shoes are even more utilitarian than clothes-and stylish clothes are rarely as uncomfortable as stylish shoes. It would appear however that these footwear giants have firmly embedded themselves in our wardrobes, creating a whole new category for themselves called 'comfort-fashion' and for as long as we love our feet they look like they are here to stay!