“Collaborations to me, are a love affair,” says Eno Polo, US president of Alpagartas, the parent company of the world’s most popular flip flop brand, Havaianas, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
Collaborations are at the core of both the brand’s success and its wide reach, but in order to become successful, they need to remain authentic, he explains. “It has to be two-way. I think a lot of brands out there force collaborations, they pay for collaborations. But if you pay for going out with a girl, I don’t call that a love affair. I’d rather it be a natural feeling – she likes me, I like her – and we go out together. That’s what I call a true collaboration, and those are the ones I think are most successful.”
Havaianas shot onto the international stage when French designer Jean Paul Gaultier accessorized his models on the New York and Paris catwalks with the flip flops in 1999, instantly turning them into an object of desire. What followed was a series of fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the now-iconic brand, hoping to borrow some of the color and freshness that only a Brazilian label could bring to the table.
Today, Havaianas produces over 250 million pairs a year, or 10 pairs a second, and is Europe’s number one sandal brand.
Beyond its ambitious expansion plans across the globe comes a mounting pressure for the brand to tackle the issue of sustainability, which may well still be in toddler stages in its native country, but is steadily becoming a business imperative elsewhere.
For Polo, the fact that the company is scaling its retail footprint and office count across Europe and the US means there is a growing internal pressure to become more sustainable. The brand is doing so by focusing on employee welfare, but also wants to tackle and own the fight for sustainability at the beaches where its products are so ever-present.
During this conversation, Polo also talks through the company’s history from catering to Brazil’s working class to hitting the beaches of Ibiza; the importance of creating a retail experience that puts a smile on the customer’s feet; and why creating such a simple product allows the brand to remain fun.