Crocs blocked: How one wrong word cost the company $230,000

Crocs, the Niwot-based maker of brightly hued, comfy-ugly clown shoes, has had more than its share of PR disasters, from the hysterical reports of Crocs-shod kids getting toes nipped in escalators to the savage reviews from fashionistas to a wacky endorsement from Donald Trump.

But all of that's nothing, compared to getting your tootsies trampled by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week Crocs Inc. agreed to pay a fine of $230,000 and no longer refer to the "antimicrobial" properties of its shoes. Jim Martin, the EPA regional administrator in Denver, said his agency was determined to protect consumers "against companies making unverified public health claims."

That sounds a tad more serious than the situation may have warranted. Crocs, as we all know, is damned proud of its "revolutionary closed cell resin" and has always touted the fact that its shoes are easy to clean and odor-resistant. Calling them "antimicrobial" is, after all, just another way of saying that they probably don't stink as much as old tennies because completely synthetic shoes are less congenial to bacteria. By the same token, if everyone walked around in hermetically sealed moonsuits, the world would be a less smelly place.

But according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act--FIFRA, to all you bureaucrats out there--products that claim to kill or repel germs ("antimicrobial") are considered pesticides. Crocs never bothered to register its footwear as a pesticide, for obvious reasons. (Hey, buddy, want to try a pair of our DDT specials?) Better to just pay the fine and expunge the word "antimicrobial" from the website.

It's an expensive lesson in overreaching, both by Crocs and the ever-vigilant EPA. Now, if the company could just get Manolo the Shoeblogger and his Gallery of the Horrors to make nice.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast