How This 244-Year-Old Company Made ‘Ugly’ Shoes Popular and Stylish

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This summertime, Inc. Is digging into the backstories of a number of the most iconic products that rule the warmer-climate months to find out how the brands constructed a following–and have stayed on top for decades. First up: Birkenstocks, the “unsightly” sandal with die-difficult fans anywhere.
You know them while you see them: The gender-neutral sandals characteristic thick straps, large buckles, and a chunky foot mattress that’s smooth at the arches. Hippies loved them. Your dad likely loves them–and even dares to wear them with socks.
What you probably do not know is that the cork footbeds that make Birkenstocks so iconic and at ease date lower back to 1774.
More than 240 years later, Birkenstock is having a fashion moment. Reportedly promoting 25 million footwear in 2017, the privately held German business enterprise has spun out as a minimum 1, seven hundred patterns. Its footwear is bought in 90 countries–and in the U.S., they have been for over 50 years. Birkenstock, which reportedly generated $800 million of revenue in 2016, plans on starting its first global flagship keep in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood q4, timed proper round New York Fashion Week. The organization declined to disclose sales figures however says 2018 could be “the satisfactory yr in sales” so far.
How does an emblem stay applicable for extra than two centuries, in particular in an industry so pushed by fleeting tendencies? While Birkenstock continues to tweak its patterns to mirror current models, the producer hasn’t strayed from its middle assignment–crafting shoes for consolation. Every shoe continues to be made in Germany and springs with the signature foot mattress. Birkenstock America CEO David Kahan likes to say that 32 humans’ hands nevertheless touch each pair of footwear before they make it right into a container and get shipped out.
“I suppose that is what’s giving us a lot greater credibility with purchasers,” says Kahan. “The Millennials–the new purchasers–who’re coming to Birkenstock and discovering us now are coming across us because they are searching out something actual.”
Birkenstock’s stomping grounds
In 1774, in the small German village of Langen-Bergheim, shoemaker Johann Birkenstock created a “foot mattress” insole that might mold to the foot and offer all-day consolation. Cobblers within the Birkenstock own family went on to develop arch supports within the late 1800s. In the Sixties, inheritor Karl Birkenstock decided to layout footwear offering the foot mattress insole. The first sandal–called the Madrid model–released in 1964.
Later that decade, an American fashion designer named Margot Fraser stumbled upon the footwear while on a spa experience to Germany and became a fan. After returning to the Bay Area, she wrote a letter to Birkenstock, starting up a distribution partnership to carry the footwear to the U.S. American shoe stores, however, were more difficult to influence: They turned her down, saying that nobody might wear the ones “unpleasant” footwear. So Fraser became to healthy meals and wellness stores in Northern California. Eventually, the footwear could find a following with the Bay Area hippies and Berkeley students.
Today, stores that variety from Famous Footwear to Barney’s inventory the sandals. The organization is still a circle of relatives-owned but appointed Markus Bensberg and Oliver Reichert as co-global CEOs of the Birkenstock Group in 2013. Kahan says the choice to stay private is planned, as it protects the organization from having to respond to the whims of shareholders and we could the emblem stay targeted on first-class.
Beyond the sandal
In the beyond a couple of years, the business enterprise has been introducing new patterns to make its shoe variety look much less orthopedic and more elegant. Design teams primarily based in the U.S. And Cologne, Germany, watch the markets in New York City, Los Angeles, and London closely to anticipate what customers will need in six months. The employer has evolved boots infamous silhouettes–which includes a demi-boot–in addition to pool-friendly sandals which can be cheaper ($40) than the regular sandals. Birkenstock has additionally collaborated with style designers which include Rick Owens, who crafted calf-hair Birkenstocks that premiered at New York Fashion Week in 2017.
Despite the trendy upgrades, the emphasis on comfort has no longer modified. Cork, leather-based, and latex are nevertheless the shoes’ number one materials, in line with Kahan. “We haven’t in reality modified who we’re or the easy technology of what makes Birkenstock Birkenstock,” he says. Details had been added. For example, inside the 1980s, the business enterprise created the proprietary fake leather Birko-Flor to result in environmental recognition.
As for most shops, Amazon looms as one of the maximum tough competitive threats for Birkenstock. In 2016, Birkenstock stopped imparting its footwear to Amazon within the U.S. Because of counterfeits and unauthorized selling on the website online. The organization also stopped authorizing third-birthday celebration merchants from selling at the site. “We just decided that Amazon turned into now not steady with our emblem equity as a patron of Birkenstock,” says Kahan. Counterfeiting is not an assignment unique to Amazon. Just last week, Kahan spoke with Facebook to shut down an ad from the vendor Sandal Boutique who he says was selling a counterfeit Birkenstock and the usage of the organization’s very own snapshots.
Beth Goldstein, style footwear and add-ons analyst from the NBD Group, says that Birkenstock has remained a traditional emblem for so long thanks to its authenticity and commitment to comfort, in particular as “comfort has emerged as cool for the duration of the beyond few years,” she said in an e-mail. Birkenstock additionally has a managed approach to distribution, which means that even though the brand may be discovered at many outlets, you might not locate it in every cut-price retailer, which, Goldstein explains, “could dilute the logo’s top rate message.” The shoes are popular–however not too popular.
Kahan says that the organization plans to increase into unexpected categories, consisting of sports, and to recognition on shoes for men and youngsters. Plus, Birkenstock has a watch on tackling “professional footwear” for workers in hospitality or health offerings who’re on their toes all day.
“We have a surely suitable take care of on who we are and what we do nicely,” says Kahan. “We do not chase developments–style is coming to us.”