In the world of fast fashion and trends that seem to have a shorter lifespan than a fruit fly, we are often
found baffled by brands and pieces that seem the ‘weather the storm’ year after year, decade after
decade. These pieces not only stand the test of time, but seem to have a secret (not to mention
enormous) level of cool mysteriously built-in, the kind of timeless cool that allows them not to only
persevere but remain every trendy and coveted. The more confusing thing is – items like these don’t
change; they don’t experience modification and adjustment in order to remain appealing to new
consumers and younger generations. They’re simply there, the same as they were the moment they
were first made, and yet, they’re bought, rocked and loved by everyone. One such mysterious item is
the Birkenstocks, and today we’re taking you on a journey that will hopefully shed some light on the
mystery of this iconic piece of footwear.
The Birkenstock brand has a long, and we dare say, proud history. According to their ‘history and
heritage’ page, the brand was born in 1774 thanks to the commitment and dedication of a true
craftsman – shoemaker Johann Adam Birkenstock. He was the one who passed on his knowledge and
vision down from generation to generation, and in 1896 his great-great- grandson created history when
he fashioned the first flexible footbed inserts. Not long after, he developed the first contoured arch
support and then in 1964 it was Karl Birkenstock who launched the Madrid model, the first fitness
sandal with a deep and flexible footbed. It won’t be long before the shoe makes it way to the US market,
and fast forward 50 years later, it is 2018 and the brand is celebrating 52 years of existence in the US.
Then and now
Like every iconic product, the Birkenstocks have had their ups and downs, not so much in sales but in
the level of popularity with hot-shot industry names and renowned fashionistas. Today, they seem to be
omnipresent – everyone is rocking Birkenstocks again. However, the past several years have gone by
without a single one being spotted on the likes of Ashley Olsen and were only to be seen on grandmas
and German tourists. Today, every household name from Miranda Kerr to Julianne Moore is rocking
them as both a part of a ‘casual, running errands’ to ‘chic airport’ outfits. The momentum is so strong
that you can even get Birkenstock shoes in Australia, South America, Africa, Asia – with a click of a
button, thanks to resellers that give everyone the opportunity to take a walk in these iconic shoes and
frequently at an affordable price. Most people associate this surge in popularity with the popularity of
the ‘ugly shoe trend’, as most fashion editors would place the Birkenstocks in this particular category.
Emma Morrison, a fashion assistant was quoted saying, “There’s nothing better than a really pretty
dress with an ugly shoe.”
What the secret then?
Not making compromises, that is the secret behind the shoe’s survival. Something magical happens, the
stars align and approximately every seven years, the shoe returns in good graces of the fashionistas.
This, however, is not something the company is overly concerned with. As the current CEO David Kahan,
says ‘we don’t say, ‘Oh my God, fashionable people are now wearing us! How quickly can we become a
fashion brand?’ We do just the opposite: We hold tight to the DNA of the brand. They are concerned
with quality, on creating the kind of shoe that provides superb support, one that still features that
footbed that molds to the wearer’s foot. He quite candidly and unapologetically states that the
company’s goal is to cater to the needs of their loyal consumers – the real people, as opposed to
bending over backwards to please the trend-seekers. The company will never give way to style over
comfort, and it’s that kind of commitment to original design, quality and authenticity that has secured
the survival and constant thriving of the company. So, that’s pretty much the secret. Staying true to
original vision and values and appreciating the people who appreciated your brand first, long before
fashionistas ever became a ‘real thing’.