Updated on Aug.6, 2011.
There was a time when Havaianas, the best-loved flip flops in Brazil, were also a kind of well-kept national secret - something foreigners discovered by accident during a Brazil vacation or when a friend brought them over as a gift. Today, Havaianas - pronounced ah-vye-UH-nas - are sold in more than 80 countries worldwide. If you're heading to Brazil, you may still want to buy them at the source to save a little cash, or maybe to show a favorite person you made room in your luggage just so you could surprise him/her with one of Brazil's hottest souvenirs.
It didn't take long for Brazilians to realize that the frugal design of Traditional Havaianas was great for creative intervention. Women customized theirs. Surfers started a trend when they removed the straps from Havaianas and put them back on with the sole side up. The company capitalized on this fad by launching monochromatic Havaianas Top, a unisex design, in 1994. The new sandals helped the company overcome a downturn and paved their way towards upper class consumers who had been reluctant about wearing Traditionals.
Tops are currently available in 20 solid colors. They, too, are popular for customizing. Brazilians use them to make Havaianas bordadas (embroidered) and silkadas, that is, printed with silk-screen.
Havaianas Baby and Havaianas Kids
Tiny feet look cute in Havaianas. The Baby model has elastic straps that snuggle comfortably around soft heels. Havaianas for babies and young kids come in several fun, colorful models besides classic designs such as Traditional, Top and Top Brazil, which has small flags on the straps.
Besides being comfortable and beautiful, Havaianas are great for kids because they are very washable and dry easily.
Havaianas for Women
Thinner straps, metallic colors, high heels and feminine flower, stripe and animal print patterns are some of the features of Havaianas for women. Slim, with very thin straps; High, which have a clunkier look that doesn't sacrifice comfort; and Flash, all about very bare feet, are some of the designs that have come up in recent years and get more popular with each new collection.
A World of Possibilities
There are more than 40 models of Havaianas and with all the colors available, that adds up to about 350 variations. Check out the Havaianas website for options. While you're around, you may want to visit the Havafanatics page in "Havaianas World", where people share their photos of, and comments about, their flip flops.
A fun fact: all the Havaianas in the world come from a single factory in Campina Grande, a city in the northeastern state of Paraíba. In a 2006 interview to the Paraíba International Business Center, a São Paulo Alpargatas director said the factory generated about 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Where to Buy Havaianas in Brazil
Finding Havaianas in Brazil isn't hard - according to the company, they're available at 150,000 points of sale in the country. However, not every store will have all the models, since a lot of Brazilian retail is based on small stores with a limited inventory.
Havaianas' greatest launch in Brazil so far has been Espaço Havaianas (opened in 2009), the concept store at Rua Oscar Freire 116 in São Paulo (take a virtual tour). In 2010, the company launched another concept store in Barcelona.
Lojas Americanas, a chain with many stores in Brazil, has a great selection of Havaianas.
Where to Buy Havaianas in the US
Large retail chains Dillard's, Macy's and Nordstrom sell Havaianas. Check out the Havaianas page by the About.com Guide to Shoes for some tips before you buy.
Tips for Buying Havaianas
The American size printed on my Havaianas Slim bought in Brazil says "6", which is not my size. If you plan on buying someone a pair of Havaianas in Brazil, or even in the US, for someone who's not going to be present to try them on, I recommend you measure their feet. Or if you want to surprise them, secretly measure a pair of their most comfortable shoes.
If you're buying Havaianas for kids, go for a larger size, even if that involves waiting till the child fits into the shoes.
Wear Flip-Flops Occasionally
Though it's fun to wear Havaianas and other flip-flops, don't overdo it. Read about how flip-flops affect body mechanics and what you need to do to keep them as part of a healthy lifestyle.