Beach style is cooling heels on the streetso to the Web site of the local sports shoe manufacturer Lecaf, and you'll see plenty of questions like these: "I bought a pair of aqua shoes yesterday, because I will soon go to the seaside for my summer vacation; but I still wonder, will the pads in the shoes dry quickly after I come out of the water? "I was unable to buy aqua shoes at your COEX branch, because that store only had large sizes left. Please tell me which branch I should visit to get my size."
Lecaf gets more questions about its aqua shoes than about any other type of shoe. The shoes become more popular with the onset of every summer vacation, but sales of the shoes have made an especially big leap this year.
Park So-youn, an official at another sportswear company, Fila Korea, said, "Our aqua shoes sales this summer are about triple those of last summer."
Aqua shoes, sometimes called aqua sandals or aqua socks, look like sneakers but are generally categorized as sandals. The top and sides of aqua shoes are made of mesh, instead of cotton canvas or leather. As a result, water drains easily and quickly out of aqua shoes and they dry quickly. And aqua shoes help travelers pack their suitcases lighter because they don't have to bring both sneakers and beach sandals.
On the safety side, aqua shoes fit tightly, unlike basic sandals, so they don't lead to slips or falls like flimsy sandals can.
Aqua shoes were developed originally for water sports such as windsurfing and scuba diving, and were not widely popular in Korea until last summer. This summer's sales jump comes partly from the further popularity of water sports, but the main reason for the boom is a new fashion trend, market observers said.
"As hip-hop styles have come to dominate sportswear fashion in the past few years, young people are wearing loose clothes, and shoes that are larger than their shoe sizes," said Han Seung-beom, who heads the shoes planning team at Fila Korea. "But now tight-fitting clothes and shoes are in style, and sneakers are the most popular shoes; and the popularity of sneakers has led to the popularity of aqua shoes that resemble sneakers."
And because the mesh in the aqua shoes makes feet cooler, consumers are wearing them on urban streets as well as beaches and riversides, Mr. Han added.
Lecaf, Fila and Nike sell aqua shoes in various colors for 45,000 won ($40) to 100,000 won.
by Moon So-young