Background Information

   While the exact origin of flip-flops is unknown they are thought to have originated in Japan since the flip-flop, or a close form of them, is the traditional shoe for a woman in Japan, though others have speculated that flip-flops were created in Jerusalem around the time of Christ or even before that. Ancient cultures such as the Romans and the Egyptians were known to wear them; in Europe, a pair of flip-flops made of papyrus leaves was found that are thought to be about 1,500 years old. Today, millions of people wear flip-flops and in some developing countries, the flip-flop is the only available shoe because of its convenience. However, in many other countries, the United States particularly, flip-flops are more of a fashion statement. Flip-flops here are available in hundreds of styles and colors and people own several pairs and will spend anywhere from $2.00 to $200 for them. They have become so socially main-stream that they have even infiltrated the White House; not too long ago there was a scandal when the Northwestern University's national championship women's lacrosse team went to visit the White House in flip-flops.

Also, in 2001, when George Bush's daughter Jenna went to court for an alcohol-related misdemeanor, she arrived wearing a pair of black flip-flops. Flip-flops have quite obviously permeated all walks of American life and they are seemingly no longer only appropriate for the beach, but also for occasions like meeting the president, going to court, and worn with a wedding gown (there are a number of “fancier” flip-flops available for occasions such as this).


      People wear flip-flops for their convenience, their relatively cheap price, and for their comfort; one company that has embraced this knowledge is Gap Inc. One of Gap Inc.’s companies, Old Navy, is famous for their inexpensively priced and abundantly available flip-flops. Old Navy began in 1994 with their first store opening in Colma, California. Old Navy was the first retail chain in 1997 to reach $1 billion in sales in less than four years and they now have 448,140 stores (nationwide). Business for Old Navy and Gap Inc. however, has not always been smooth. In 1999 a new Old Navy store opened to a protest because of a lawsuit involving Gap Inc. and 17 other companies, even though Gap Inc. settled in the case, the company still maintains that the allegations were untrue. When comparing and contrasting the ethics of a big corporate clothing companies it is like choosing the lesser of two evils; to a certain degree, they are inherently damaging the world. However, there are some companies, such as Gap Inc., that are trying to take an initiative toward the moral progression of their company. In 2005, Gap Inc. released a Social Responsibility Report that detailed what they were specifically doing to improve their factories and the well-being of the factory workers. This report entails violations made by Gap Inc.’s factories, how many days it took to resolve the issues and also the rating and monitoring scales for all factories used. A chairman of Gap Inc.’s board has been quoted saying, “We should go beyond the basics of ethical business practices and embrace our responsibility to people and the planet. We believe this brings a sustained, collective value to our shareholders, our employees, our customers and society”.


      While the company may strive for this many factories Gap Inc. uses still have many problems, see pages 27-32 of the Social Responsibility Report, but it is clear that Gap Inc. knows about the problems and is attempting to resolve any and all issues. Gap Inc. also releases a guideline for each factory to follow called the Code of Vendor Conduct which outlines all rules and regulations. This code forbids child labor, discrimination, and ensures basic human rights and compliance with environmental laws. Gap Inc. has been recognized for their steps toward social responsibility; in 2004 they received a “Basic Ethics Reward”, in 2005 they were commended by Ceres-ACCA for “Continued Excellence in Social Reporting”, and in 2007 were named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Corporations” by Ethisphere Magazine. Gap Inc. also posts their Quarterly and Annual financial reports showing their expenses and total net earnings.


      Flip-flops aren’t usually specifically marketed by themselves. Companies that sell flip-flops (such as Old Navy), usually also sell clothes and they market the flip-flops via the marketing of the clothes; they are marketed as an accessory. Flip-flops are often marketed toward teenagers and young adults and they are advertised as inexpensive, comfortable, and long lasting.  The internet and TV commercials are predominantly used to market flip-flops. Gap Inc. may not attempt to be a gendered company but within their stores and more prevalently in the factories, their employees are women. By looking at page 43 of the Social Responsibility Report published by Gap Inc. we can see the percentages of women vs. men for the company are staggeringly different. For multiple reasons, men in our society don’t feel as comfortable “working in fashion” or working retail jobs. Companies usually offer discount incentives to employees and that is desirable to women. In foreign countries, women work in factories because that is the only place they can get jobs. Knowing this though Gap Inc. has set up many benefits for their employees, like maternity, paternity, and adoption leave to its U.S. employees (see page 47 of social responsibility report for all benefits).


      While flip-flops are extremely popular there have been many dangerous problems for their wearers. This may be because of an allergic reaction to what flip-flops are made of rubber which is an isoprene polymer. The chemical make-up of flip-flops is this; styrene, butadiene, isoprene, benzene, petroleum, ethylene glycol/propylene; there are environmental effects of these substances which could be accessed through the hyperlinks. Or it may because of the lack of support flip-flops provide for your feet, says a doctor who spoke with ABC news.  Always wearing flip-flops or wearing them too often can cause serious short-term and long-term injuries for their users like a recent LiveScience article states. Also, there was recently a case where a woman who bought Wal-Mart flip-flops got chemical burns from wearing them, the burns lasted weeks and Wal-Mart did nothing for her. Though these types of reactions are rare, people should always be careful when purchasing and wearing flip-flops, even if they don’t have allergies or back or joint pain. People all over the world wear flip-flops every day but many remain uniformed on their origin, materials, the companies that produce them, and the dangers of them. Hopefully though, this has been helpful and interesting and will make you think every time you slide on those flip-flops you wear.

Word on the Street

  Flip-flops are one of the oldest kinds of footwear known to man.  They are an ancient trend. Recently, however, their popularity has caught fire. “I probably have ten pairs of flip-flops, it is seriously all I wear during the summer,” said twenty year-old student Katie Teegarden. Most flip-flops (such as the ones from Old Navy) are very inexpensive and widely available. Nineteen year-old student Ann Terrell said, “If you go to Old Navy in the summer you see just a wall of flip-flops and you can get pretty much any color you want; I love them, I buy like four pairs every year.”


      However, not everyone is as thrilled with flip-flops “I never [wear flip-flops]; it’s uncomfortable. I don’t like having something between my toes, that whole thong part is weird,” said eighteen year-old Danielle Hollis. Others say that flip-flops have given them leg and back problems. High school student Hannah MacDonald talked about the injuries flip-flops have caused her, ‘I used to wear flip-flops but not anymore, they killed my back and knees. I like them, I want to wear them but I don’t think they really work as shoes.”  A user named Steve discusses how flip-flops can cause injury in his video.



 What You Can Do

If you want to continue wearing flip-flops but are concerned about the environmental repercussions, here are several things you can do:  To save your flip-flops from being in a land fill there are blogs that suggest ideas for recycling or using old flip-flops for other things and there is a company called UniquEco who recycles flip-flops. One group, Kenya Gatsby Trust (KGT), takes in old flip-flops and other used items and makes things such as curtains from flip-flops and picture frames from bicycles. There are also flip-flops made out of hemp instead of rubber and plastic which is better for the environment and more comfortable on your feet. There are also groups in which protest the use of synthetic rubber because of its harmful pollution effects on the environment.

Ten Facts Every Consumer Should Know

  1. Flip-flops are a kind of flat, backless sandals that consist of a flat sole held on the foot by a V-shaped strap that passes between the first and second toes and around either side of the foot, attached to the sole at three points, commonly known as the thong strap.


  1. Researchers have found pictures of flip flops in ancient Egyptian murals dating back to about 4,000 B.C.


  1. Flip flops can cause serious problems for your feet, ankles, knees, hips and the back.


  1. There have been several cases in which women received chemical burns from a pair of flip flips from Wal-Mart.  The pictures are shown above.


  1. Flip Flops are made of synthetic rubber materials.  In those materials are Styrene, Isoprene Polymer, Benzene, and Ethylene.  All three of these main materials that make up synthetic rubber are environmentally harmful.


  1. There is an alternate to the synthetic rubber flip flops.  Flip Flops made from Hemp are also available for more information on these check out the “What you can do” section.


  1. Old Navy is owned by Gap Inc.  Gap Inc. work force is made up of over 70 % of women.


  1. Gap Inc. consumer base is made up of over 60% women.


  1. Flip Flops gross approximately 20 billion dollars worldwide. 


  1. Brazilian jewelers H.Stern have teamed up with Havaianas, Brazil's most popular flip-flop brand, to make a range of luxury flip-flops with a top price of $19,840. This flip flop is to be covered in diamonds and feathers made of 14k gold


 Flip Flops and Gender


Flip-flops have become so frequently worn that you can spot them on almost any type of person throughout our temperate seasons. Many people feel like flip-flops are an androgynous and almost genderless product. Jo Goodger, a 49 year-old teacher, said “Flip-flops are absolutely unisex to me. I’ve worn my husband’s pairs and he’s worn mine.” The standard pair of flip-flops, neutrally colored and without embellishments, are essentially genderless.  “I get confused when I go to Target to buy flip-flops because I can’t tell what flip-flops are for men”, said 58 year-old electrician, Mark Spicer.  If I find myself looking at a woman’s pair then I will put them back to find a men’s pair, I don’t really know why though, they look the same to me.  However, this thought isn’t universal; there are many men who refuse to partake in this trend. With the popularity of flip-flops has also come a backlash. Rapper DMX took a stance against the footwear by claiming that “thugs don’t do flip-flops” (30).  There is a prevalent thought, particularly amongst men, that flip-flops are too feminine.


      Much of flip-flops recent popularity is attributed to the “metro-sexual man movement.”  Metro-sexual men, according to, are men with a strong concern for their appearance, or whose lifestyles display attributes stereotypically attributed to gay men (31).  Although metro-sexuality has become very widespread, many men reject it for its ties to femininity, and by rejecting metro-sexuality, many of these men consequently also reject flip-flops. Businessman Mark Wright mirrors this thought, he finds flip-flops to be too delicate and effeminate. “I think the cheap [flip-flops] are non-manly, they are lacking in power. They are physically weak, unlike, say, a boot and they’re cheap, suggesting the wearer is poor. In addition, they make no statement and have no character” (30).  Apparently, for a shoe to be masculine it has to be sturdy, expensive, and must appropriately express one’s masculine character. On, an individual with the pseudonym Ralph Peterson has posted several videos of his/her own social commentary. One specific video, entitled “Mandels” crudely discusses the immasculine nature of flip-flops. Another video of a comedian making fun of the kind of men who wear flip-flop sandals can be viewed through this link - video.


      People that have an issue with the masculinity of flip-flops (or lack thereof), seem to have an issue with the deficient display of power conveyed with flip-flops. Masculinity is perpetually linked with power, and if something is seen as immasculine, it is consequently seen as powerless as well. The recent metro-sexual trend may be pervasive, but it doesn’t really represent the hetreonormative heart of our society; we are still knee-deep in homophobia and enacting gender appropriately. Even those people who claimed flip-flops to be unisex said that they only were to a point; only without colors or embellishments. Men that wear narrowly styled flip-flops that are adorned with flowers, or even just with colors, are walking a precarious line. Hannah MacDonald, a high-school senior said,  I think guys usually wear sandal-type flip-flops; the kind that are made of that canvas-like material and are usually brown and have thick straps. There are metro guys who can pull off wearing regular flip-flops, but I think a lot of guys are worried about looking gay and they don’t feel like those brown sandals look gay. Many of the men that do wear flip-flops are very aware of this threshold; some choose to ignore it, but most either don’t wear flip-flops at all, or wear a pair that could never be mistaken as a woman’s pair.





Interview Sources

32.      MacDonald, Hannah. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008.  

33.      Terrell, Ann. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008.  

34.      Spicer, Mark. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008.

35.      Goodger, Jo. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008.

36.      Teegarden, Katie. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008

37.      Hollis, Danielle. Personal Interview. 2 November 2008