So how did clear plastic shoes from Brazil become mainstream American fashion? While it's not entirely clear when or where jelly shoes were first invented, their game-changing debut in the United States took place at the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair. The following February, they really secured their spot in the annals of fashionable footwear at a shoe exposition in Chicago [sources: Moore, Baker].
Steering this push to the wider fashion world was the Preston Haag family. Preston Haag Sr., a former banker interested in a new career, was traveling across South America in 1981 searching for products he could arrange to export. Brazil was where he noticed jellies for the first time, and he quickly struck a distribution agreement with the company that manufactured them, Grendene, to sell the unique shoes in the United States under the amalgamated name: Grendha shoes.
The Preston Haag family's first order was for 24,000 pairs of shoes. Two years later, it was 3.5 million [source: Baker]. One important early customer was Bloomingdale's; Doris Johanson, an employee in charge of purchase decisions, ordered 2,400 pairs in nine styles at the Chicago shoe convention. The shoes were sold both on the Bloomingdale's sales floor and through the catalogue.
Others also noted the potential of jelly shoes, expanding the field of injection-molded soft plastic footwear and experimenting with different formulations. Next up -- how jelly shoes are made.