By Kelly Zeni
The exaltation of Brazil as a place of peaceful and integrated coexistence of people from different nationalities and religions is no longer new to the world. Rarely, however, a brand translates so well the spirit of the Brazilian people as Havaianas does.
A journalist from London’s The Independent Review wrote, “with these sandals in your feet, we can be walking in the city streets, but dreaming with the beach.” He added, “You glide in a pair of Havaianas and, somehow, you become an honorific Brazilian.” Brazil is a nation has a gift for welcoming and absorbing immigrant, a joy in the melting pot, and is characterized by intolerance for intolerance. It is Brazil!
This story begins on April 3, 1907 when a Scotsman named Robert Fraser came from Argentina and established a partnership with an English group, founding the company that later will turn into São Paulo Alpargatas S.A. Part of its portfolio would be Havaianas – a shoe model inspired by Zori, the japanese sandals made of rice straw or wood used with kimonos. From Brazil came the raw materials, the sandals are made of rubber, a natural product from Brazil. Completing the diversity picture the name was a derivative of Hawaii, where the wealthy and famous Americans spent their vacations on the beach under the hot sun and in a glamorous atmosphere.
The Havaianas target customers were for thirty years a financially disadvantaged class that bought the product at neighborhood markets. In the early 90’s, the sales plunged and the situation was reversed only after a strong effort of brand repositioning and huge investments in marketing. Currently, the sandals are seen on the feet of all people; the famous top model Gisele Bundchen to Landless Movement guys, from surfers to intellectuals. People of widely varied economic classes have on their feet the same pair of sandals, thus giving truth to the slogan “Todo mundo usa” (Everyone uses).
The Brazilian flip-flops were also compared by the Wall Street Journal and the The Independent Review, to Boeing and the Beetle, whom have reinvented their product categories. Perhaps for this reason, between 1997 and 2004, they became one of the leading global brands in Brazil and increased São Paulo Alpargatas stock value 325% in real terms on the Bolsa de Valores de São Paulo exchange. The same success has also brought the other side of the coin: everyone tried to copy them. But copies are “fake” (fajutas, in Portuguese), warns Havaianas advertising.
In 1980, we had already sold over 180 million pairs domestically of Havaianas and the product was considered as essential as the traditional rice and beans, an almost daily dish on the tables of Brazilians. From basic, Havaianas turned into an exotic gift for Oscar nominees in 2003, whom won exclusive designs sandals with rubies in special packaging. In 2004, Havaianas launched a gold and diamond collection signed by Mark H. Stern. As of 2006, 162 million pairs of Havaianas had been sold worldwide, 10% of the sales made to more than 80 countries on five continents
It is true Havaianas are perfect for a hot country like ours. But they also have appeared in the French magazine Le Point, the Galeries Lafayette, noble point of consumption in Paris, the shop windows of Gucci in Milan, the Saks Fifth Avenue New York, by Selfridge’s in London, the trendy boutique Samantha in Malibu, and are figures constant in women’s magazines such as Elle and Cosmopolitan.
Five Pairs Per Second
More than feet, Havaianas are on head and on the heart of Brazilian and foreigners; it was the fourth most recalled brand in Latin America some years back. In the manufacturing plant of Campina Grande, the only one in the world, are produced five pairs of Havaianas per second. Every second three pairs of sandals are sold in Brazil summing almost 200 pairs per minute – 12 000 per hour! The company has manufactured and sold more than 2.2 billion pairs since they were launched in 1962.
Want to be an honorary Brazilian? Embrace diversity, adopt democracy, be original, think globally, like plurality, but above all, wear your own pair of Havaianas!
Kelly Zeni is Managing Partner at Tangelo Captação de Recursos, a company she founded in 2002 focused on innovation & entrepreneurship initiatives on Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) area.