The success of Birkenstock is rooted in its commitment to the art of making orthopedically inspired shoes. Over the centuries, it has built up a wealth of unparalleled experience that it has passed down from one generation to the next, with each generation cultivating and further expanding this knowledge.
The Birkenstock brand traces its roots to Johann Adam Birkenstock, registered in 1774 as a "vassal and shoemaker" in local church archives in the small Hessian village of Langen-Bergheim.
In 1896, Konrad Birkenstock developed the first contoured insole for use by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear. Also in the year 1896, he opened two shoe stores in Frankfurt, Germany where he continued to make and sell his insoles. He begins giving specialist lectures over a period of 15 years for leading master cobblers and sells licenses allowing others to produce his innovative footbed shoe design.
In 1925, Konrad Birkenstock expanded the company by buying a large factory in Friedberg, Hesse. In 1932, Karl Birkenstock launches the Birkenstock training courses, which are soon highly regarded within the industry. In the years that follow, over 5,000 professionals take part in his week-long podiatry and specialist footwear courses. Leading physicians endorse the courses and the “Carl Birkenstock system”.
After World War II, the Birkenstock sandal was popular among returning soldiers because of orthopedic support. Between 1963 and 1964, Karl Birkenstock released his first athletic sandal with a flexible footbed called Madrid. This was the first fitness sandal with a deep and flexible footbed, thereby laying the foundation for today’s comfort footwear market.
In 1966, Birkenstocks were introduced in the United States, as well as elsewhere. The American Margot Fraser discovered Birkenstock sandals while visiting a spa in Germany. She gained relief from a foot condition, and founded a trading company called Birkenstock Footprint Sandals Inc., in California, based on her enthusiasm for the sandals.
Renamed Birkenstock Distribution USA Inc., in 2005, the company remained until 2007 the exclusive importer and distributor of Birkenstock name-brand products in the US. In 2007 the owners of Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG purchased their long-standing distribution partner Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc.
In the United States, Birkenstock first became popular among young men and later on among flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism. The shoe became popular with hippies and others who had a "back to nature" philosophy and appreciated the natural foot shape and foot-friendly comfort of Birkenstocks.
Initiated as long-term project, the Birkenstock Personality Campaign series aims to portray the wearers and create genuine intimacy by maintaining photographer, Jack Davison’s ongoing format of meeting and capturing campaign faces in their chosen environment. The campaign reflects original style, with talent teaming their own Birkenstocks with items from their personal wardrobe, as opposed to focusing on seasonal product.
Birkenstock collaborated with many big names such as Valentino Garavani, Rick Owens, Monocle, Opening Ceremony and more.
With the help of licensing partnerships, the shoe manufacturer takes over new strategic business segments, markets and target groups. The new lines focus on four themes that perfectly complement Birkenstock’s brand essence: healthy living and sleeping, healthy workplaces, healthy feet, as well as running and a healthy approach to life. Birkenstock launched its Natural Skincare Line in 2019.
As for its current marketing strategy, Birkenstock puts the consumer at its core. Reichert said it’s “to listen to our markets and to deliver what the consumer is asking for. Sounds simple, but Birkenstock has been more like a product-centric and production-driven company in the past.
Sustainability is one of the key tenets of Birkenstock. The shoes are meant to withstand the test of time, and the company even offers repair services within Europe.