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With Joybees, Crocs Veteran Hopes for Another Home Run

After more than half a decade at Crocs, former merchandise manager Kellen McCarvel is striking out on his own.

With a new line called Joybees, McCarvel aims to bring the same injection molding technique that put Crocs on the map to a new set of silhouettes, designed with moms and kids in mind.

Injection-molded EVA became the Crocs calling card 18 years ago when the brand launched with its signature ugly clog. Somehow, despite the silhouette’s homely appearance, Crocs has risen to mainstream prominence—and even captured the hearts of young Gen Z consumers through strategic collaborations with cultural icons.

The technique used to create the lightweight, often single-piece shoes relies on injecting molten ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) into a mold, where it expands and cools before being released. What results is a shoe made in roughly a single piece, without the need for adhesives.

Injection-molded footwear is becoming increasingly viable to consumers, McCarvel said, as brands like Birkenstock, Teva and even Yeezy are adding styles to their lines that rely on the technique. “I think that’s going to expand and grow,” he said.

“It’s a great way to make a shoe that’s durable and comfortable and lightweight,” McCarvel added. “They’re odor resistant because it’s a closed-cell foam, and they’re easy to clean with water and soap.”

Since departing Crocs, McCarvel has been working on the concept for Joybees, and he believes he’s found an opening in the market. Parents and children can benefit from injection-molded footwear, he said, because the shoes have all the qualities that busy families need to stay on the move. Easy to slip on and wipe down once they become dirty from a day of playing outside or at the beach, EVA footwear can be both stylish and hyper-functional, he said.

“They’re looking for comfort and style in equal doses,” McCarvel explained. “They really want something that’s versatile, that fits into their lives easily,” he added.

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The brand’s January launch will feature multiple sandal styles, including a flip-flop and a multi-strap sandal for women. A kid’s slip-on sneaker and sandal will round out the initial offering—and Joybees has plans to launch a clog shortly after. Using a dual-injection technique, the clog style will feature a softer EVA insole for added cushioning, while the surrounding midsole and upper will be made from a more durable formulation. Styles will range from $19.99 to $27.99.

McCarvel also has plans to move into cut-and-sew silhouettes in fall of 2020, including a cap-toe sneaker, a cupsole style and an athletic runner. All feature some element of textile in their uppers for greater flexibility, but the injection-molded EVA will serve as the base for all styles.

When it comes to sourcing, all of the brand’s products will be manufactured in China, McCarvel said, and Joybees is still searching for a more sustainable version of its EVA foam. The polymer-based substance, which makes up the bulk of athletic shoe midsoles, is known not to biodegrade when the shoes are sent to landfill.

Presently, though, Joybees is looking into using at least 20 percent recycled EVA in its standard compound. “We’re trying to do that as much as possible,” McCarvel said. “On the input side, we’re looking for a more sustainable EVA, something that has a more bio-based component or filler.”

In addition to being available direct-to-consumer on the brand’s website, McCarvel is taking the traditional track of courting mom-and-pop-run stores to stock his shoes. “We want to build out a robust wholesale business starting with independent retailers,” he said, as well as mid-tier national chains that “offer value-oriented price points to their consumers.”

Asked how Joybees stands to make its mark in a crowded market, McCarvel said that the brand will capitalize on the consumer’s love for casual footwear. The category still offers massive potential for brands looking to break in, and athleisure “continues to dominate” at retail.

“We want to create casual, versatile products that can be worn across a wardrobe,” he said. “As we expand, we’ll be looking into items that have many different occasions for wear.”