Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG is a shoe manufacturer headquartered in Vettelschoß, Germany. The company sells Birkenstock, a German brand of sandals and other shoes notable for their contoured cork and rubber footbeds, which conform somewhat to the shape of their wearers' feet. Representative products include the two-strap sandal, the Arizona, and the Boston clog.
The Birkenstock brand traces its roots to the German Johann Adam Birkenstock, registered in 1774 as a "subject and shoemaker" in local church archives. In 1897 Johann's grandson, Konrad Birkenstock, developed the first contoured insole for use by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear. In 1902 Konrad developed the first flexible arch-support for insertion into factory-made shoes. In 1964 Karl Birkenstock developed these inserts into a shoe - thus producing the original prototype of the Birkenstock sandal.
Since 1967 these shoes have been sold in the USA as well as elsewhere. American Margot Fraser "discovered" Birkenstock sandals while on a holiday in Germany. She gained relief from a foot condition, and founded a trading company called Birkenstock Footprint Sandals, Inc., in Novato, 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 United States.
Since the 1980s, Birkenstock footwear has become popular among medical professionals (e.g., dentists, nurses) and others who work on their feet. In Germany people most often use the sandals as house slippers, but in the United States they have become a part of everyday clothing for people from professionals to blue-collar workers and the entertainment industry. Heidi Klum designs footwear for Birkenstock.
When not using them as work footwear, people usually wear Birkenstock with casual clothing.
In the United States, Birkenstock first became popular among young men and later on among flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism; in the early 1990s "Birk" enjoyed a surge of popularity among high-school and college-aged Generation Xers comparable to the 2000s popularity of flip-flops. During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals". As of 2013[update] Birkenstock continue to enjoy high popularity with teenagers and college-aged young adults. Birkenstock are referenced in Lily Tomlin's one-woman show,The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by Jane Wagner.
Certain members of the Birkenstock family also market other brands of footwear, under licence from the original Birkenstock company, featuring contoured foot beds. These brands include Betula, Tatami, Papillio, Birki's, ALPRO and Footprints. In 2007, Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc., was acquired[by whom?] and formed into a new corporation named Birkenstock USA, LP.
- "Imprint." Birkenstock. Retrieved on July 8, 2010.
- Carr, Collie (12 March 2006). "Thank You for Insulting Our Sandals". The New York Times. Accessed 7 May 2012.
- Eric (31 August 2003). "Who's Afraid of Howard Dean?" Classical Values. Accessed 7 May 2012.
- "Chasing Birkenstocks". Sociology 221: Sociology of Work Leisure and Consumption. Lewis & Clark College. 1997. Retrieved 7 May 2012.