Birkenstock

Tonie Ong

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Birkenstock Collection

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There are certain brands whose signatures have become so well-known that they’re used as the definitive terms for similar products. For example, a square-silhouetted suit with contrasting piping is often referred to as a Chanel suit, even though the garment in question may not be from the French label. Any dress or gown with a nipped waist and full skirt are most likely to be thought of as a Dior New Look creation, even though the dress wasn’t made anywhere near Paris in the first place. These brands’ contributions have become embraced by the people so much that they automatically associate them with whatever fashions that might look similar. Such is the case for Birkenstock, as well.

What many might believe to be the name of a certain shoe is actually the name of a brand that originated and popularized the said shoe, Birkenstocks. Known for their “Ugly-Pretty” shoes, the brand has sold footwear for centuries and is one of the oldest footwear labels in the world. Their distinctly-designed yet comfortable and durable footwear has amassed a global fanbase and a giant retail expansion. Their shoes have also become staple wardrobe pieces, at times even a necessary item rather than just a fashion statement.

Unique Footbed

Part of what makes Birkenstocks popular is their unique footbed. Not only is it durable and strong, it’s molded to the shape of one’s feet, making the pair more comfortable to wear and less rigid. This unique footbed was developed in the 1930’s, around the same time that the famous Birkenstock shoes were introduced. It has four layers to it, making it a strong show that won’t break easily. The first layer is the shock absorbent shoe, making the positioning of the foot that much more fitted to the show and comfortable for the wearer. Next are two layers of jute fibers, making up the durable base. And finally, the last layer is the soft suede, for a chic and sophisticated touch.

Birkenstock shoes store in Frankfurt, Germany
Birkenstock shoes store in Frankfurt, Germany. Grzegorz Czapski

Right from a line of German shoemakers

The company was founded by Johann Adam Birkenstock in 1774, who was registered as a vassal and shoemaker during those times. He lived in Langen-Bergheim, Germany. The business was then passed down to generations of Birkenstock men, including the founder’s great-great-grandson Konrad in 1896. Konrad created the contoured linings of the shoe that make it a comfortable pair to wear. During the early 20th century, the brand began to expand to include multiple stores across Germany. It soon gained an international following after the Second World War, when soldiers embraced the Birkenstock shoes for the comfort they provide them.

In the 1960’s, Birkenstocks reached to the United States and beyond.  American businesswoman, Margot Fraser, saw how comfortable the shoes were during a trip to Germany and opened distribution companies for the label in the United States. Through the years, Fraser’s company, which has changed its name often but consistently contained Birkenstocks, distributed the famous shoes in America and around the world. It was later purchased by the mother company in 2005. Today, Birkenstock shoes are some of the most worn pairs of footwear in the world. While they may differ in aesthetics and design, some have compared its universality to the stiletto heel.

Political Impact

Among all the most known footwear brands, none have had a political impact quite like Birkenstocks. When the company saw international prominence in the late 60’s and 70’s, it was around the time that the youth began rebelling against the establishment. For these hippies and bohemians, the Birkenstocks were the best shoes to complete their rebellious looks. A liberal group was even referred to as “Birkenstock Liberals.” The company is also known for their animal rights and sustainable processes. They seldom made use of animal skins for their designs, in contrast to other shoe labels that are big on their luxury leather goods. In 2018, the animal rights activist group PETA awarded Birkenstocks as the “Most Animal-Friendly Shoe Company”.

Retail Expansion

The Birkenstock brand can now be found in various stores and retailers worldwide. Their international expansion began in the 1960’s when they were first introduced to the American market. Today, the top leading department stores in the US carry Birkenstock shoes, the likes of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. They’ve also opened numerous stores around the world, across all continents. Online, retail giant Amazon carried Birkenstock items, and the company itself has opened their own e-commerce platform as well. With hundreds of stores and various online means to buy a pair, Birkenstock has become one of the most successful shoe companies in the world. While they may not be as respected as other fashion brands, the consumer’s love for the label cannot be denied.

From the 18th century to today, the Birkenstock brand has stood the test of time. Their indelible signatures are embraced by customers all over the world, due to the shoe’s comfort and durability. Although it’s not as fine-looking as other shoe brands, the Birkenstock label and shoes are staples of the modern wardrobe, a feat only a few companies have achieved.

Birkenstock sandals displayed Berlin, Germany. 2
Birkenstock sandals displayed Berlin, Germany. Cineberg

Places to Shop for Birkenstock


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