Whether you love them or hate them, there is something bold about a pair of Crocs clogs. But far from being a passing fad, the brand has built up a huge following within the past five years and is now one of the fastest-growing footwear companies in the world. It is even stepping into fashion footwear and apparel as Ron Snyder, the company's chief executive, tells Joe Ayling.

Not even his wife liked them at first, but Ron Snyder tells just-style during a recent meeting in London that the UK has been a hospitable environment for Crocs.

Snyder, the company's president and CEO, is suited and booted for the occasion, in a unique way. Towards the end of the interview, he demonstrates the value of yoga by stretching his right foot onto the table to show me his chosen footwear for the day - a pair of brown buck-topped Crocs Ventures. He pulls the look off well, proving that Crocs is bringing some style to the table these days, quite literally.

"When my wife originally saw them, she said 'look I am never going to wear those'. Now of course she wears them all the time but says she takes them off after six. Now she's excited to get the new You by Crocs [fashion shoes and boots] line because you can have comfortable shoes after six," he tells just-style.

Having nearly tripled its net income to US$64.4m last year and quadrupled profits for the first quarter of 2007, Colorado-born shoe brand Crocs is well and truly in the limelight. The quirky footwear firm thinks it has the bright colours to stay there and Snyder is also setting his sights on a bigger, and more fashionable, stage.

Snyder speaks with the conviction and confidence of a high-profile corporate boss and dresses the part with a classy cream suit and gold watch. He has experience managing growth, as a former executive at electronics group Flextronics and CEO of home-theatre firm Vinci Corporation, and officially joined Crocs in June 2004, stepping forward from a consultant role.

Pivotal year
The company's growth has been unparalleled in subsequent years and Snyder, who identifies 2005 as a pivotal year, knows that Crocs has something unique. "We had great products to start with, like with all of the products we have developed up to date, our material's unique and our styling's unique," he says.

As a result of this uniqueness, replication has been an issue for Crocs, which has successfully sued a number of companies for infringements.

The company's kryptonite, so to speak, is a patented material called Croslite, which has lightweight, slip-resistant and antibacterial properties and is used in every single one of its footwear, accessories and apparel products.

Croc boasts to operate two and a half times faster than most footwear and apparel outfits. Indeed, the company took just a month to launch the brand in Australia, two weeks in Singapore, and since the turn of 2007 has set up manufacturing and sales in Brazil, accelerated by the contacts of Snyder and other management from Flextronics.

"We see the world as flat and we can get there very quickly," Snyder says.

Rapid expansion
The Crocs workforce has expanded from three to 3,200 since 2002, and 17,500 outlets in 80 countries worldwide stock the brand. The company has six production sites in the US, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico and Romania and has a Crocs Europe unit set up in the Netherlands. It also runs Crocs stores, with 65 globally, in eight countries.

Crocs has become synonymous with sailing, fishing, nursing, gardening and catering. In addition, the Crocs RX range has won accreditation from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), and 1,000 doctors offices in the US subscribe. Exercise enthusiast Snyder, who runs, bikes and even hikes in his Cayman's, is well aware of the footwear's versatility.

"Our customer base is massive, it's every demographic and it's for so many different uses and so many different socio-economic groups. It's a very broad demographic, probably the most broad of any footwear for many, many years - there is no question about that," he says.

Having hit the ground running since a successful IPO last year, Crocs has snapped up brands aside from footwear, such as sports equipment label Fury and accessories outfit Jibbitz - character charms that can be pinned to Crocs shoes.

The company also has plans to release bags, hats, scarves, gloves, clothing, underwear and hosiery - all incorporating Croslite.

It has also entered into a licensing deal with Warner Brothers in February, adding to existing agreements with Disney and Nickelodeon - all representing sure-fire routes to the children's wear market.

Broadening its appeal
The brand is also broadening its appeal with the You by Crocs line of fashion shoes and boots, which has been launched in New York. Although more expensive than the original Crocs, priced at between US$149 to $299, Snyder insists the brand is not moving into an upper market.

He tells just-style: "We use the highest quality materials in this new You by Crocs line, with shearling in some of the product and some high quality leathers. So we've come up with a very high-end line that might be twice the price as one of our high-end fashion shoe companies but are good value for a really high end product.

"There will be other products that are even more affordable than the initial Crocs, so we're going both directions."

"Ugly" is a word never far removed from conversations about Crocs, and yet they are designed in Italy - a country steeped in style and finesse. Crocs has played on such accusations, and even ran an advertising campaign in the US tagged 'Ugly can be beautiful.'

"Some people don't like Crocs and think they're ugly, but everybody knows and has heard how comfortable they are and how many uses there are for the product. So now as we come up with more styles - some that fit a particular taste more than the original style - we are getting even more customers to jump on the Crocs bandwagon," Snyder continues.

Stepping into fashion
It does raise the question of how a brand known for being practical, comfortable and even "ugly" can step forward with new fashionable ranges. Snyder acknowledges that stepping into fashion can be dangerous.

"If it's dangerous it doesn't mean you don't do it. It just means you have to bring something different to justify the fashion element. With our new women's shoe line the story is really comfort, they just happen to be fashionable too. With our new apparel line the story is that it's going to be comfort apparel - and by the way it's fashionable," Snyder says.

So it seems that Crocs' business strategy more closely resembles the jagged edges of its namesake crocodile than that of a one trick pony, and in Snyder they have an expert zookeeper to tame the beast.

"Keep in mind that under the business model we put together, we're not going to go crazy by developing massive amounts of product that might not be accepted in the market. We are going to build products as consumers say 'I really like that, I'd like to have more of that,' - that's part of our model," Snyder adds.

Crocs' management realises that the popularity of its bold early collections gives the brand a passport for better looking fashionable items. However, the transition of Crocs should be closer to a makeover than plastic surgery.