Is the Crocs scare a crock?
The popular, brightly colored clog-style shoes are being identified on the Internet and in news reports as so dangerous on escalators that some parents apparently won't let their children wear them anymore.
Although the injury reports are worrying, the focus on Crocs might be deflecting attention from an array of soft shoes that moving stairways like to grab. Sandals and flip-flops, for example, are most commonly snared by escalators in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority subway stations, which have more escalators than any other U.S. transit system, the authority's David Lacosse said.
"Crocs," he said, are "getting a raw deal."
Crocs Inc. agrees, and statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission support the company. The agency said that of the 53 reports in its files over a five-year period about escalator-footwear tangles, Crocs were named in four, with one resulting in an injury.
Crocs over the years have been blamed for transgressions ranging from creating static electricity that can disrupt hospital machines (apparently nurses love the shoes) to being unnecessarily ugly.
The company said it knew of no reason that its shoes would be any more susceptible to static electricity than sneakers or other types of footwear that medical professionals favor.
Crocs' popularity might be part of the problem. The Boulder, Colo., company that has sold about 50 million pairs of Crocs since they hit the market in November 2002 called the shoes "completely safe." That Crocs scooped up 5.2 percent of the industry's "lifestyle casual" market has "struck and surprised" other footwear executives, said Bill Boettge, president of the National Shoe Retailers Association.
Crocs' sales jumped to $354.7 million last year from $108.6 million in 2005. In the first six months of this year, sales hit $366.3 million.
The company has expanded its product line, with even a limited line of clothing. Celebrity chef Mario Batali, who owns dozens of Crocs, mainly orange, has teamed with the company to produce his signature Bistro model, which will be available this fall, according to his Web site.
Knockoffs of the rubbery molded shoes are everywhere, and some also are getting stuck in escalators.
"The popularity of our shoes has helped draw attention to a long-existing issue that we think is very important - escalator safety," Crocs spokeswoman Tia Mattson said in an e-mail.
The statistics don't matter much if you've watched an escalator gnaw on your child's shoe. Maryam Banikarim, chief marketing officer for Univision Communications Inc., was on an airport escalator with her 7-year-old- son Nicholas Lerner on Labor Day when he "started screaming bloody murder."
"The side of the escalator is sucking up his shoe and foot at the same time," she said. "It was terrifying." His foot required 10 stitches.