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That ’70s Show: Clogs’ Big Comeback for Spring ’16

There’s a groovy ’70s vibe in the air. As Swedish Hasbeens Founder and Designer Emy Blixt describes, “The ’70s is my childhood and my generation. I will always look back on the ’70s and remember when our mothers were young and cool and looked great in those ’70s ABBA clogs… The ’70s was a time for change, community and responsibility for the world our kids will inherit, and this is something people have started to care about again.”

Welcome to the return of the’70s, also known as Spring ’16, where the call for a better future is as loud as the swish of flare jeans and the clomp of wood clogs. And that desire for change—be it political, spiritual or purely sartorial—is reflected on the runway. After seasons of technical and athleisure-inspired collections, spanning designer sweatshirts to $1,000 sneakers, designers are keying into nostalgic themes with a sense of Flower Child style and wonder.

This spring, Prada and Miu Miu added weight to shoes with oversized platforms, followed by Thakoon, which added bohemian leg wraps to chunky wood heels. For Fall ’15, Jill Stuart opted for double-breasted suede coats, Burberry Prorsum swayed toward fringe and Giambattista Valli played with retro proportions like high necklines and flared bottoms.

And then there are the mighty Millennials, who, despite their love for yoga pants, remain loyal to denim. According to a recent study by The NPD Group, older Millennials (ages 25-34) accounted for 13 percent of the category’s sales from May 2014 to May 2015. Couple Millennials’ purchasing power with the influx of new vintage-inspired silhouettes from denim brands—wide leg, boyfriend, girlfriend, high-waist, flare, overalls, culottes to name a few—and the arrival of ’70s footwear seems like the next natural step.

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Most Throwback Thursday photos from the ’70s are cringe-inducing, but the decade’s fashionistas were on to something: clogs complement flare jeans. In fact, some might go as far to say the clog is the Captain to the flare’s Tennille.

“Some people are just not that comfortable wearing a more traditional clog with skinny jeans so the fuller looks will be welcome by those consumers,” said Kelly Brown, Dansko product line manager.

Cape Clogs Founder Pamela Irving has watched trends come full circle since launching the brand almost ten years ago with designs that were quintessential ’70s fashion. “Flower power—that’s what you identify the 1970s with and so I started with flower patterns,” said she of the initial collection of traditional low heel, open back clogs.

From there, Irving grew the line with novelty prints like polka dots, soccer balls, golf balls and more. Some prints and patterns have tapered off in favor of patents and lush Italian leather, but for Spring ’16 Cape Clogs is revisiting the decade with color block leather in warm shades of yellow and a crop of mid heel designs. “New silhouettes and heel heights are transforming the clog industry to where it is now,” she said. Today, the brand offers clogs with heels as high as four inches in its boutique-friendly Pica Pica collection.

Once high-end designers began to send clogs down the runway, Brown said heightened interest in clog silhouettes was anticipated. “It has pushed the use of material mixing and has been influential on bottom design in terms of height and shape,” she explained.

Dansko Executive Vice President of Sales Kitty Bolinger pointed out that the clog trend has “waxed and waned” over several decades, but when it is on trend the fashion retailers flock to Dansko. This spring and summer, the brand is experiencing success with its traditional open back clogs, contemporary clog booties and clogs with open shank designs. “We see the interest in clogs and clog constructions growing and we believe that once the consumers experience the comfort and support of clogs that they will look for fresh, spring-appropriate expressions,” she said.

For Spring ’16, Dansko is building on that momentum with two new clog sandal collections—one based on its popular stapled construction and another collection rooted in classic design. Depending on the collection, leathers range from rich full grain to soft milled nubucks and summery washed leathers. “Our Spring 2016 orders are coming in already, and they are bigger and more clog oriented than in recent seasons. The demand for our heritage product is back, and retailers don’t want to miss a single sale so they are booking clogs of all kinds aggressively for Spring 2016,” Bolinger reported.

A representative for Brooklyn-based Shoe Market said clogs have been a staple for its clientele for years, noting that customers are shopping for variety. The boutique stocks a clog in every shape: Mary Janes, strappy clog sandals, low heels and high heels. At Shoe Market, Dansko has been a mainstay for comfort, while Swedish Hasbeens has been a draw for trendsetters.

Swedish Hasbeens landed in the US in 2008 and gained its footing in the market in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. The brand now sells to approximately 100 independents, online retailers and chain stores, and this year began a partnership with Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters. Blixt says about 30,000 people buy Swedish Hasbeens in the US every year. To keep up with demand, the company maintains a warehouse and e-commerce shop in the US.

“We sell a lot of the classic old styles in the US. The first styles, like the classic Slip In clog, the Braided Sky High and the Peep Toe Super High we made back in 2008 to 2010 are still growing in the US,” Blixt added.

The brand began in 2006 when Blixt, a teacher at that time, found an old stock of original clogs from the ’70s in a closed down clog factory in the south of Sweden. “I knew the shoes from my childhood and bought all of them and brought them to my attic in Stockholm. I’m very good at buying things so it was not difficult for me to make a deal with the owner. I knew instantly that I could sell them, and I also had a feeling I wanted to make them,” she said.

Blixt eventually introduced her stash of clogs to friends and sold out in one month. In 2007, she and her childhood friend Cilla Wingård Neuman set out to create more. Their plan was to make “balanced shoes” combining handcrafted, natural materials with fashion. They began with retro-inspired colorful wooden shoes on the original high heels from the ’60s and ’70s—decades that happened to be trending in fashion at the time.

For Spring ’16, the brand is focusing on relaxed, comfortable styles with an Inca twist, Blixt says. “We present some great new handcrafted styles with inspiration from the old traditional Mexican Huarache leather sandals. We also introduce some new platform styles, easy-to-wear slip-on clogs and the old classics in new colors,” she described.

However, Blixt points out that Swedish Hasbeens is not really about recreating the ’70s, but the ideas from that decade, when she said people believed in something bigger than themselves. The brand aims to offer shoes made with quality, natural materials like wood and vegetable-tanned leather that gain character as they are worn. Blixt believes handcrafted items are things consumers in the US will continue to be interested in for the foreseeable future.

“A lot of people in the US appreciate quality, handcrafted materials, and Scandinavian stylish design. Since the US is a super big market, and since people appreciate us here, it has been natural for us to focus on the sales in the States,” she said.

Part of the draw of Troentrop, a Swedish clog brand that dates back to 1907, and its younger fashion-oriented sister brand Maguba, is their European roots and their use of simple, natural materials. “People want something handmade,” said Chris Glenn, Troentorp and Maguba national sales manager.

The owners of Troentrop, which has been in the US market since the ’60s, launched Maguba in 2009 as a way to tap into the growing demand for fashion clogs. At the time, the company was doing private label fashion footwear for a number of years. Where Troentrop, made with alder wood, has made a mark with its retro weaves, scalloped trims and crisscross leather uppers, Maguba shakes things up by combining electric pink and neon yellow leather uppers on lime wood clog bottoms.

Glenn sees the core clog product and its consumer changing. “Clogs are definitely moving beyond people just wearing them for occupational reasons,” he said, noting that a broader spectrum of retailers are showing interest in the style, including fashion, outdoor and active lifestyle stores. Based on feedback from retailers, Glenn said female consumers are opting for clogs as something easy to slip on and off on the way to yoga, however, he admits clogs can be a difficult sale because of their traditional wood base.

“It takes a while for retailers to understand the physical benefits,” Glenn said. Troentrop clogs feature an anatomically shaped footbed designed to give support and give an even weight distribution. A raised heel and arch support places the foot at an optimal angle for support and posture, while the big toe indentation adds comfort.

Irving agreed: “I try to education people why the Scandinavian countries use wood. It’s a substrate material. Your foot hits it and it stays in place. With manmade materials, your foot has to work harder. People don’t realize your foot is more stabilize and less weak in a clog.”

California-based designer Calleen Cordero is a champion for wood clogs—for both the shoe’s style and comfort attributes. Her eponymous line of women’s footwear focuses on hand sculpted alder wood heels, which she said is a lost art in the US. “Each country has their specialty. Italy excels at lasts, India has beading, France was known for leather soles and oxfords. Every country has their own thing and North Hollywood used to be a wood footwear hotbed,” she explained.

The industry eventually moved to China and different places in the world, but Cordero is on a mission to revive it in the US with her line of luxury boutique styles that retail upwards to $600. Cordero likens her clogs to art and her customers to collectors. “I never follow any one trend. I do what I want. I have my own factory and the shoes evolve,” she said.

Still, Cordero recognizes a growing interest in clogs. “The ’70s retro thing is happening now. It’s all over the place with flare jeans and the clog naturally fits with it,” she said. To mark the style’s return for Spring ’16, she is unearthing eight designs from her archives. “They feel fresher now,” she quipped.

Mia is reminding the industry (and their original consumers) of its roots with a new collection based on the traditional Swedish clogs it launched with in 1976. The brand’s first steps were with clogs, which Mia Owner Richard Strauss said made a strong statement in the women’s footwear market back then. In fact, he said the company was selling more than 20,000 clogs a week well into the early 1980s.

The Mia Clogs 1976 line, slated for an August launch, includes a myriad of familiar closed and open-toe clog silhouettes. The Italian-leather and alder wood clogs are made in Sweden using most of the same techniques that were applied in ’70s, but with the added benefit of being made in factories that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC sets standards for responsible forest management and is supported by World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

The collection is modernized with twisted leather details, versatile straps, higher heels and tractor bottoms, which Strauss said might appear trendy, but also hark back to Mia’s heyday in the ’70s. Black, red, bone and tan are key colors. Pared down packaging, complete with its own logo, gives the collection its own distinct feel from the rest of Mia’s range.

Strauss says the Mia Clogs 1976 collection has been well-received with buyers, but will history repeat itself?

During the height of Mia’s original clog business, another polarizing style—the Birkenstock sandal—was a hot item. “Clogs and Birkenstocks went hand in hand with the fashion of that time,” Strauss said. With Birkenstock’s resurgence in the market, spurred on by designer knock-offs, a flood of fashion stories hating on it (and then loving it), strong sales at independents and its association with ’70s style, many footwear brands are hoping for clogs to have a similar fate for Spring ’16.