Sao Paulo Alpargatas S.A.

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Sao Paulo Alpargatas S.A.

Rua Urussui 300
Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo 04542-903
Telephone: (55) (11) 4147-8300
Fax: (55) (11) 4147-8370
Web site:

Public Company
1907 as Sao Paulo Alpargatas Company S.A.
Employees: 9,966
Sales: BRL 1.23 billion ($419.74 million) (2004)
Stock Exchanges: Sao Paulo; OTC
Ticker Symbols: ALPA3, ALPA4; SAALY, SAANY
NAIC: 314912 Canvas and Related Products Mills; 314999 All Other Textile Products Mills; 316211 Rubber and Plastics Footwear Manufacturing; 339920 Sporting and Athletic Goods Manufacturing

Sao Paulo Alpargatas S.A., one of the largest apparel and textile firms in Brazil, is best known for its Havaiana thong sandal. This humble flip-flop, after long serving as simple light footwear in tropical Brazil, has improbably morphed into international high fashion. But the company also turns out other kinds of footwear; sports clothing and other sporting goods; and a range of industrial textiles. It also operates a chain of retail clothing stores and is active in property development.

Footwear, Jeans, and Much More: 190779

The origin of Sao Paulo Alpargatas goes back to 1884, when S.A. Fábrica Argentina de Alpargatas was established in Buenos Aires by Juan Etchegaray, a Basque who had made a shoe with a canvas top and a sole of jute rope or twine, and Robert Fraser, a Scot whose family firm, Douglas Fraser & Sons, made textile machinery. They teamed to produce a version of the footwear known as an alpargata. This traditional Spanish light sandal, worn by peasants and laborers, had a sole of tough fiber (usually hemp) woven to an upper of canvas cloth and was fastened about the ankle with cloth strings. Additional capital for the Argentine alpargata came from a Manchester firm, Ashworth & Co., which was manufacturing cotton textiles.

Fraser and other British and Argentine investors brought this footwear to Brazil in 1907, when they founded Sao Paulo Alpargatas. The Argentine company took a stake of nearly 9 percent in return for its privileges and patents. Production began the next year, and the factory also turned out oilcloth and canvas tarpaulins. These goods were prized on coffee plantations, because laborers clad in the light footwear did not damage the beans on the ground, and the tarpaulins were used in the drying yards (and later for awnings). The company began selling shares on the Sao Paulo stock exchange in 1913.

The Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting collapse of coffee prices in the worldwide economic crisis that followed forced the company to stop making alpargatas. It diversified its output with other types of footwear, such as other sandals, leather shoes, and tennis shoes. During the 1940s the company began making alpargatas again and expanded its production of textiles to enter the clothing industry. This output included denim for its first line of jeans, marketed under the Rodeio label. In 1946 Robert M. Fraser, grandson of the founder, sent Keith Bush to Sao Paulo for 15 days as an emissary from the Argentine firm. He stayed for 42 years, becoming president of the company in 1954. The enterprise was a pioneer in publicizing its products on the radio during this era.

SP Alpargatas introduced the Havaiana (Hawaiian) flip-flop in 1962. This rubber-soled sandal, with a V-shaped strap separating the big toe from the others, quickly became ubiquitous in Brazil, thanks to its simplicity, suitability for a tropical climate, and low price. The company, in 1965, introduced its Topeka brand of trousers. Two years later it introduced Madrigal bedspreads. In 1972 it launched a brand of trendy faded jeans called US Top. SP Alpargatas was the dominant Brazilian jeans producer in the 1970s. It added Topper-brand sporting articles in 1976 and purchased a competing company, Raihna Calçados e Materiais Esportivos Ltda., in 1979. SP Alpargatas was Brazil's biggest textile and shoe manufacturer, with $385 million in net sales, in 1980, and factories turning out footwear, jeans, jackets, shirts, bedspreads, denims, canvas, tarpaulins, and sporting goods.

Good Times, Then Tough Times: 198097

Parent Alpargatas S.A. parted company with SP Alpargatas in 1982, selling its shares. Thousands of individual shareholders now controlled more than 90 percent of the Brazilian enterprise's capital. It was the tenth largest Brazilian-owned private group, with 21 factories in six states and 28,000 employees. That year the company bought Jeaneration, a six-year-old brand of jeans and shirts, and opened a retail chain by that name. In 1983 SP Alpargatas introduced Top Plus, a more expensive jeans line, and Samba, another footwear brand. The company, in 1987, began manufacturing Arrow shirts under license. Because of its superior variation of sleeve lengths and collar sizes, Arrow enjoyed a 10 percent share of the dress-shirt market. Alpargatas also held the Brazil license for Nike footwear from 1987 to 1994.

With revenue of 31.2 billion cruzados ($433 million) and 30,000 employees, SP Alpargatas was still Brazil's biggest textile conglomerate in 1987. The following year Diego Jorge Bush succeeded his father as the company's president. Forty-six percent of the common shares were still owned by 8,000 individual stockholders, but two big blocks of shares were held by the Brasmotor (22.1 percent), and Camargo Corrêa (19.5 percent) industrial groups. The two, each well represented on the board of directors, eyed each other uneasily but agreed not to raise their respective stakes in the company and seek control.

SP Alpargatas was still the leading manufacturer of textiles and ready-made clothing in 1991, but this sector had experienced a 10 percent drop in revenue because of the recession that had gripped Brazil for two years. Indeed, in 1991 the company suffered its first loss in 55 years. Under the impact of the looming economic crisis, Alpargatas, in 1989, had changed its business philosophy, which had always been to turn out more goods, at lower prices, of the products in which it specialized. Some eight factories were closed in 1990 and 1991, and 14,000 employees dismissed. Much of the work needed was outsourced to plants in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay. Clothing, the second largest division next to footwear, was the area most affected. Two of the company's six clothing factories were sold, and the number of items manufactured was reduced by more than half. However, some new lines were added. In 1991, for example, Alpargatas began manufacturing Polo/Ralph Lauren shirts under license, and the following year it began doing the same for Van Heusen. This was in keeping with the firm's new philosophy: to seek products with major brand recognition. It intended to become more a service than a manufacturing company, concentrating on marketing and on supervising the logistics of distribution.

In spite of these measures, SP Alpargatas suffered catastrophic results in 1992, losing $84 million on flat revenues that were, in dollar terms, less than half the total in 1986. Its share of the Brazilian jeans market was now only 6 percent, while its share of the footwear market had dropped from 70 percent in 1988 to 30 percent. The company's change in policy had not been bearing fruit. By abandoning corner stores for shopping centers and other higher-end venues, Alpargatas had been yielding space to its competitors. Moreover, the hard-pressed public had shown reluctance to pay higher prices for clothing such as the US Top line, which was now twice as expensive as similar jeans. In response, Alpargatas cut costs further by outsourcing even internal areas such as corporate engineering, insurance, and a supermarket chain mounted for its employees. It thereby lowered its fixed costs and its debt by almost half and was able to make money from 1993 to 1995. Another important decision was the joint venture initiated in 1994 to produce indigo denim fabric and twill with a rival textile firm, Santista Têxtil S.A. This seven-factory unit became the largest manufacturer of these products in Brazil and the third largest in the world. In 1995 SP Alpargatas acquired the license to manufacture and sell Timberland Co. sportswear, and the following year, a similar license for the products of Mizuno Corp., a leader in sandals, tarpaulin, and sports shoes.

Camargo Corrêa had raised its stake in SP Alpargatas to about one-third by 1993. In January 1997, after Alpargatas had again lost money, Camargo Corrêa joined with Banco Bradesco S.A., Brazil's biggest privately owned bank, which now held Brasmotor's former share, to oust Bush as chief executive. He was succeeded by Fernando Tigre de Barros Rodrigues.

By this time SP Alpargatas had made a giant step toward recovery in upgrading its familiar Havaiana sandal in 1994. A publicity campaign featuring young, attractive models introduced Havaianas Top, which cost twice as much as the basic-sandal price (BRL 3, or about $1) and sold in 13 colors. Sales of the flip-flop rose from 70 million in 1993 to 105 million in 1999. A Brazilian advertising agency, Almap, launched a highly successful television campaign that always featured a Brazilian celebrity in a comic situation involving a new pair of Havaianas. By the end of the century Alpargatas had also introduced two lines that were twice as expensive as Havaianas Top: Fashion, a thick-soled model for women and girls, and Surf, a line for boys that had a wider sole and different colors.

When Tigre arrived at SP Alpargatas, he later told Eduardo Ferraz for the Brazilian business magazine Exame, "I saw the organization was hierarchical and stagnant, and I doubted that it was possible to change things. After two weeks I told my wife that my career was over." Unlike Bush, who had preferred to delegate authority to the company's three virtually autonomous divisions, Tigre involved himself in almost very phase of the organization: the product lines, the positioning of the brands, export strategy, the politics of human resources. The Polo/Ralph Lauren, Arrow, and Fido Dido licensed operations were dropped, and the Jeaneration stores were sold, as were the firm's operations in Argentina. Many executives were fired or demoted, and thousands more workers were dismissed. Six of the 12 floors at headquarters were rented out. Company business was reorganized into five divisions: sports shoes, Havaianas, canvas and other textile coverings, retail strategy, and Timberland shoes.

Company Perspectives:

What we want to be: Be a world class company with desired brands of sport products, shoes, and industrial textiles.

The Flip-Flop Fueling Profits: 19982005

SP Alpargatas returned to profitability in 1998 and stayed in the black. It continued to turn out Rainha, Topper, and Mizuno sports footwear, articles, and clothing, Timberland footwear, and industrial textiles, including almost all Brazil's seat coverings for trucks. Meggashop was now the name of its retail store business. But it was the Havaiana that was attracting the world's attention. Some eight million pairs were exported between 2000 and 2002.

Abroad, however, the Havaiana was being marketed as a high-end item. In the United States it was restricted to such chains as Marshall Field's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nordstrom, and the better-class West Coast surf stores, where fashionistas paid as much as $160 for a customized pair festooned with Swarovski crystals. Sandra Bullock was seen wearing Havaianas with an evening dress. Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, and Sting also sported the suddenly trendy flip-flop, and supermodel Naomi Campbell bought dozens for her friends whenever she visited Brazil. In Paris, designer Jean-Paul Gaultier paraded his models down the runway in Havaianas for his summer show, and by mid 2003 jewel-encrusted versions, bearing labels such as Chanel and Gucci, were being marketed in 45 countries, including Japan, where Swarovski-crystal pairs sold for the equivalent of $236. H. Stern, a longtime Brazilian jeweler, offered the sandals with 18-karat gold-feather straps; the price ranged from $2,100 for this "simple" sandal to $17,000 for a pair with both gold feathers and diamonds.

In January 2003 Camargo Corrêa raised its share of SP Alpargatas from 38.5 percent to 61.2 by purchasing Bradesco's stake in the enterprise. In June of that year Alpargatas and Camargo Corrêa bought the 55 percent of Santista Têxtil held by Bradesco and the Bunge group, becoming its sole owners. With five plants in Brazil, two in Argentina, and one in Chile, Santista Têxtil was one of the largest manufacturers of denim in the world. It ranked fourth in sales among Brazilian clothing and textile companies, while Alpargatas ranked third. Alpargatas held 30.67 percent of Santista's shares in 2004 and half of the voting capital.

SP Alpargatas sold 129.7 million pairs of Havaianas in 2004, 16 percent more than in 2003. This unit accounted for 43 percent of the company's sales volume. The sports footwear, articles, and clothing brands Rainha, Topper, and Mizuno were placed under common management in 2004. This business unit accounted for 35 percent of sales volume. The operation of the Meggashop stores and management of Timberland and its associated Sete Léguas, Conga, and Samba brands was now under the business development unit, which accounted for 12 percent of company sales. Alpargatas sold 20.2 million square meters of industrial textiles in 2004, accounting for 10 percent of sales volume. In addition, its principal wholly owned subsidiary, Amapoly Indústria e Comércio Ltda., was producing polyvinyl chloride and polyester laminates for use in the manufacture of a variety of fabrics.

Amapoly's products and Alpargatas's industrial textiles were being made in Manaus. Topper and Rainha sports shoes were being produced in Natal and Santa Rita. Havaiana and Samba sandals were being made in Campina Grande. Soccer balls and Topper, Rainha, Mizuno, and Timberland shoes were being manufactured in Veranópolis. Vulcanized and injection-molded shoes were being produced in Mogi Mirim. Pouso Alegre was the site of tennis and shoe development.

Counting its share of Santista, SP Alpargatas had gross sales of BRL 1.23 billion ($419.74 million, based on the average currency-exchange rate) in 2004 and net income of BRL 93.82 million, or $32.02 million (although Santista lost a small amount). The company's own sales came to BRL 1.08 billion ($368.6 million) and its net income to BRL 95.55 ($32.61 million). Export revenue accounted for 6 percent of the total. The gross debt was BRL 64 million ($21.84 million) at the end of the year.

Principal Subsidiaries

Amapoly Indústria y Comércio Ltda.

Principal Operating Units

Business Development; Industrial Textiles; Sandals; Sports Articles.

Principal Competitors

Cia. de Tecidos Norte de MinasCoteminas; Grendene S.A.; Vicunha Têxtil S.A.

Key Dates:

Sao Paulo Alpargatas is founded by British and Argentine investors.
SP Alpargatas introduces the Havaiana flip-flop, which quickly becomes ubiquitous.
Introduction of US Top helps make the company Brazil's dominant jeans producer.
SP Alpargatas is Brazil's leading shoe and textile manufacturer.
With the Brazilian economy in recession, SP Alpargatas suffers its first loss in 55 years.
The company's share of the jeans market falls to only 6 percent.
By upgrading the Havaiana sandal, SP Alpargatas takes a giant step toward recovery.
The company wins licenses to manufacture and sell Timberland and Mizuno products.
After several years of mixed results, SP Alpargatas returns to the black and stays there.
The company take a sizable stake in Santista Têxtil S.A., a large denim manufacturer.
Havaianas account for 43 percent of the company's sales volume.

Further Reading

"Amarrota, desbota e perde ó vinco," Exame, January 8, 1992, pp. 40-41.

Balbi, Sandra, "Uma aliança para nao perder o vinco," Exame, February 16, 1994, pp. 48-50.

Correa, Cristiane, "Pé lá fora," Exame, July 9, 2003, pp. 78-81.

Ferraz, Eduardo, "Operaçao resgate," Exame, November 28, 2001, pp. 66-68.

Galanternick, Mary, "Flip-Flop Fly," Latin Trade, July 2003, p. 32.

Gutiérrez, Leandro, and Juan Carlos Korel, "La Fábrica Argentina de Alpargatas," in Siglo XIX, January/June 1990, pp. 75-104.

"Sai Bush, Entra Bush," Exame, May 18, 1988, pp. 75-76.

Smith, Tony, "Sandal From Brazil Is New Fashion Flavor," The New York Times, March 25, 2003, pp. W1, W7.