Not Your Mama’s Birkenstock

Chocolate Patent

Imagine a small German village inhabited by a young shoemaker named Johann Birkenstock. Birkenstock creates comfy shoes for villagers, launching (though he’ll never know it) a new approach to footwear and a label that will be  recognized by millions around the world.

Black Patent

Generations of the Birkenstock family have been designing and crafting footwear since 1774, but in the 1890s, Konrad Birkenstock (Johann’s descendant and a custom shoemaker himself) got the idea of creating a curved shoe reflecting the true shape of the human foot with contoured arch support.

Konrad and his son Carl improved and refined the arch supports over the next 50 years, creating their trademarked  “footbed supports.”

We were lucky to catch up with Birkenstock spokesman Tom Suiter recently to see where Birkenstock is headed since its humble beginnings in 1774.

The original Birkenstock was designed with whom in mind?

Everyone! We believe that having comfortable supportive footwear leads to overall well-being.

Talk about the inspiration for the design and fabrics.

The concept behind our iconic footbed design is that the shape of the shoe should mirror the shape of a healthy foot. All of our styles follow this principle.

The contours ensure proper weight distribution with raised arches to help support the foot’s natural shape and structure. The toe bar allows the toes to grip and flex, stimulating circulation, exercising the leg and helping to maintain balance. The deep heel cup keeps the foot’s natural padding under the heel to provide stability. As a result of these factors, the correct bones bear the weight of the body to help keep the spine and legs in alignment.

Our materials are always of the highest quality – but we always try to leave as small a footprint on the earth as possible. Our cork, the core of our footbed, is completely natural, renewable and biodegradable supporting a centuries-old tradition. Our buckle factories are powered almost exclusively by solar power; all our adhesives are water based; our packaging is kept to a minimum (shoe boxes and tissue) and is made of 90% post-consumer waste and our product is all designed with the value of being repairable verse disposable.

On this fabulous foundation we offer colors and materials that are classic and timeless; as well as closely following the trends of the fashion world and offering this seasons stylish colors – so we’re always offering a comfortable way to be fashionable.

People associate the original “crunchier” side of eco with Birkenstocks but they’ve actually gotten a lot more hip over the years. Do Birkenstocks really need to evolve?

Yes and no. Birkenstock has always been about comfort, but we’ve stayed on trend in terms of forecasting colors men and women are drawn to. Our classic looks are widely regarded and well received by our loyalists, but we’ve brought new people into the brand with new materials and colors. One way we have evolved recently is to expand our Soft Footbed collection, this footbed has an additional layer of foam for a extra cushioning without compromising arch support. Perfect for first time wearers or someone who needs a bit of extra comfort.

Was there any point that sales dipped or peaked since Birkenstock became a company?

In the USA our sales have grown year over year since we started here in 1966. Our current spring/summer season has been remarkable, especially with fashion-forward consumers who have responded to the Gizeh and Madrid – key products in our Spring/Summer 09 line. Everyone one from the fashion media to celebrities were seen in these products and we’ve felt real enthusiasm across the board.

I see more teenagers and 20-somethings wearing Birkenstocks and clogs. Is the nod to more stylish fabrics being inspired by them?

It’s not just an approach to innovating and finding stylish fabrics, it’s where we are culturally, too. The media right now are reporting on a trend where people want to take care of their feet more. Styles that used to be worn for leisure or on the way to work – are now being worn in the work place. That and the cultural shift to being conscious of your environmental footprint. People can achieve all these things with Birkenstock and look stylish too.

How do you see the Birkenstock line evolving over the next 5 years?

We will always stay true to our founding principles: our footbed, our commitment to the environment and offering our favorite styles and colors as well as the latest color trends.  What we would like to see is everybody evolving to our thinking and embracing this focus

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.