Recycled retro

The new Hoki shoes are an old design infused with bright colors.

hoki 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hoki 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you've lived here long enough, you've probably seen them. The old-school plastic sandals worn by tubby old men selling fruit in the market or sweeping the streets. They've been around for almost 50 years. But just when they were in danger of becoming extinct, a fashion-conscious Tel Aviv resident decided to rescue them from inevitable oblivion. "I knew the instant I saw them in a dusty shop on Jaffa Road that they would be the next big thing in fashion," says Shlomit Slavin, a former executive producer in advertising who spotted the sandals one afternoon as she was riding her bike. Between jobs and looking for something to do, she decided to investigate. "The shop was a dusty mess, but I liked those shoes. I bought a pair, but the shop owner told me they'd stopped making them and he couldn't get anymore." The name of the factory was on the sole of the shoes, so after a few phone calls, she discovered that while the company was still in business, it had discontinued those shoes years ago and sold the rights to another factory. "At first, I thought I should forget about it, but a few days later, I decided to call the factory that bought the rights." Slavin describes that factory as a time capsule from the 1960s, and when she arrived one afternoon asking to buy the rights and the molds for those plastic shoes, they thought she had lost her marbles. "They tried to explain to me that those shoes were for the swimming pool and old workers. They told me they didn't even have the molds anymore because they'd stopped making them too." At 5,000 euros for each shoe size to purchase new molds, Slavin decided to scrap the project. "I only wanted to invest NIS 70,000, and it just seemed like it wouldn't be possible if I had to buy them for so much money." Luckily, the factory called a few days later to announce that they had found the molds and she could have them and the rights. "This was before the whole Crocs plastic shoe craze hit Israel, and they just didn't understand why I would even want them, but I knew they had great potential." By February 2007, a little over six months after discovering them, Slavin had ordered 3,500 pairs of brightly-colored plastic shoes and named them Hoki, which means "broom for the street" in Japanese. "I wanted a worker's name for the shoes and something that sounded Japanese. The embassy didn't want to insult the Japanese language, but in the end they agreed to help me and gave me a list of names to choose from." The new Hoki shoes are an old design infused with bright colors. Slavin sold them to high-end fashion stores in Tel Aviv, and they were so successful that by the winter of 2008, she decided to start marketing them internationally. At the Who's Next fashion show in Paris, she managed to get a last-minute slot despite applying after the deadline. "In Paris, I got orders from all over the world - in Japan, Canada, and all over Europe. People absolutely loved them, and they're now sold in stores like Galeries Lafayette and Bon Marche." The fashion editor for the French edition of Cosmopolitan picked Hoki sandals for the March 2008 issue's spread on "24 sexy must-haves for this summer," and Slavin says she just got a phone call about potentially creating a Hoki line for yacht workers. "I didn't realize just how popular they would be when I started out, and the response I've gotten internationally throughout the fashion world has been overwhelming." With her slim frame, dark hair and blue eyes, Slavin cuts a striking figure. Her friends have always commented that she has great taste and an eye for the unusual, but she says that she still has trouble believing how well Hoki is doing. The earth-tone skirt and elegant black top she is wearing make the bright yellow sandals on her feet even more noticeable. "People always tell me that I put things together well, but I don't have a lot of self-confidence," she says as she pulls out the new Hoki sandals that she designed for this summer. Although they have a much more sophisticated look, Slavin says the idea is to make sure they remain as comfortable as the original Hoki, which have orthopedic soles. She is also using recycled plastic for the new line, which will include black and gold, and says that being ecologically friendly is one of the things that makes Hoki different from Crocs - that and their shape. "I had three women in the street stop me yesterday to ask me where I bought these," she says, picking up one foot to show me her shoes. "I don't tell them they're mine, I just give them a store name so they can find them themselves." In Israel, they evoke a strong response from people who remember wearing them and, like Crocs, the opinions about them tend to be extreme. "People either love them or they hate them," says Slavin. "There's no middle ground." For more information, visit