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The incredible success of Birkenstocks – Il Post

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Second some rumors reported by Bloomberg shoe company Birkenstock may soon go public on Wall Street. There is talk of a valuation of between 8 and 10 billion dollars: double the amount at which it was sold just two years ago to the L Catterton company, which belongs to the multinational luxury sector LVMH.

It’s a huge achievement for a company with a very long history that has grown rapidly in just a few years, above all thanks to the success of some very popular models both in Europe and in the United States, in some cases to the point of becoming unobtainable. The success of these shoes is particularly remarkable if we consider that until recently they were considered the ugly shoes par excellence, while today they are seen in collaborations with luxury brands, worn by celebrities and in TV series, and are now part of the taste of those who want to dress following the fashion.

Birkenstocks were born in Germany as orthopedic shoes and owe much of their fortune to the widespread passion in Germany for long walks, so this type of shoe is particularly suitable in hot weather. Today they are transversally appreciated not only for their comfort and practicality, but also for their appearance, and above all they are no longer associated only with the summer clothing of German visitors. Over the years, limited edition models designed by famous people have been sold, and high fashion companies such as Dior, Manolo Blahnik, Valentino, Celine and Givenchy have reinvented them using new materials and colors, but always keeping the classic shape.

Model Heidi Klum at the launch party for her limited edition Birkenstocks, 2003 (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

The German company that produces Birkenstocks it has a story which begins in 1896, when a craftsman from Frankfurt, Konrad Birkenstock, opened two shops in the city that sold sandals with an innovative insole: at the time the insoles were typically flat, while he had the idea of ​​creating a shaped insole that wrapped around the foot, supporting it shape.

In the early twentieth century, as shoe manufacturing began to become increasingly industrialized, he developed flexible rubber insoles that could be inserted into any commercial shoe to create a comfortable Footbed, literally a “foot bed”. Birkenstock’s reputation in orthopedics was established thanks to rubber insoles and Birkenstock’s son, Carl, who took over the family business from a young age, while as an adult he wrote numerous treatises on foot health which contained drawings of feet deformed by ill-fitting shoes. It was then with the arrival of Carl’s son, Karl Birkenstock, that in the 1960s the brand began producing the sandals with cork footbeds for which it is famous today.

Birkenstock’s transformation from a German orthopedic manufacturer to a global fashion brand probably could not have happened without Margot Fraser, a woman born in 1929 who grew up in Berlin and became a successful seamstress in Bremen. In the early 1960s, Fraser married an American and moved to Northern California; because her feet often hurt, on a trip to Germany in 1966 she bought a pair of Birkenstocks from the Madrid model. As soon as she returned to the United States, she contacted Karl Birkenstock to offer him to import her shoes there.

– Read also: History and future of Birkenstock

The shoe dealers Fraser offered Birkenstocks to said the sandals would never sell, so a friend of hers suggested that she set up a booth at the San Francisco health food fair. Fraser’s first customers were the owners of grocery stores, who spent all day on their feet and who began to sell Birkenstocks on their shelves, alongside muesli and vitamins. The success was such that the shoe merchants begged her to supply them with sandals, as she told the New Yorker.

Since then and for many years Birkenstocks have been associated with American and European counterculture, and have cyclically had moments of fame. In 1990 in the British magazine The Face a fashion shoot was published starring Kate Moss, who was then unknown and would soon become one of the most famous models in the world, and who is still remembered today for her dirty, imperfect and realistic aesthetic, as well as for the references to the underground culture that until then had remained outside the fashion of magazines: among other things Moss wore a pair of Birkenstocks. Then in 1992 the designer Marc Jacobs used them for the famous fashion show collection grungy made for Perry Ellis, together with Converse All Stars and Dr. Martens boots.

The photos of Kate Moss with Birkenstocks, which appeared on The Face in 1990

Things are a little different today and Birkenstocks have in a certain sense ceased to be particular and alternative shoes. Especially some models from Birkenstock, such as the Understand Boston and the Arizona two-strap sandal have become extremely popular. They are included in that taste that many define ugly chicthat is ugly yet chic, which is part of a wider trend towards comfortable, bulky and not very elegant shoes that are liked precisely for the fact that they somehow represent a form of break with the standards of the past.

In an interview with New Yorker CEO Oliver Reichert said that no matter how strange a Birkenstock may seem at first glance, you have to wear it to understand: “You have to try to survive the first visual impression, and it’s love ‘at second sight'”. According to Reichert, the success of this type of footwear is not just a passing fad, but the consequence of a real cultural change: for example, that women have understood that many of the shoes they wear force them into an uncomfortable and harmful posture Health. The popularity of Birkenstocks, Reichert argues, is due to the desire to return to a more natural life, which nonetheless has nothing to do with environmentalist radicalisms, but rather with the awareness that the human body is made in a certain way.

– Read also: Mules are not meant to be liked

This aspect is also raised by how Birkenstocks are mentioned in the recent film Barbie – which contains a series of reflections on how awareness of the female condition and aesthetics has changed – in which at a certain point the protagonist played by Margot Robbie has to decide whether to continue living in the perfect world of Barbieland, represented by a pink shoe high-heeled, or whether to go to the real world, represented by Arizona sandals. The choice goes beyond the aesthetic factor and is linked to the message that Birkenstocks carry with them: the acceptance of an imperfect but authentic compromise, in the face of the excessive standards imposed by society.

In 2022, Birkenstock saw revenue rise by almost 30 per cent to around €1.2 billion, with profits of €394 million. Sales were so high and surprising that they caught the company unprepared: for example, the great popularity of the suede Bostons on Instagram and TikTok last fall made them substantially unobtainable in New York.

Many also attribute the increase in sales to the fact that Birkenstocks have appeared in some very successful TV series and films. In addition to Barbieare seen in the TV series The Bearwhich was very popular and which tells the work in a Chicago restaurant in crisis where employees wear the Tokio model, which has the shape of a sabot that fastens behind the heel.

Jeremy Allen White as Chef Carmen, the protagonist of The Bear

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