From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Birkenstock (disambiguation).
Birckenstock logo
Pairs of Birkenstocks (original in the back, Birki's in the front (Birki's owned by Birkenstock))

Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG is a shoe manufacturer headquartered in Vettelschoß, Germany.[1] 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[citation needed] 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.

Birkenstock sandals are often thought of as clunky and unattractive. In actuality, Birkenstock offers several avant garde styles of thong sandal that have recently enjoyed tremendous popularity among celebrity women and men.

When not using them as work footwear, people usually wear Birkenstock with casual clothing.[citation needed]

In the United States, Birkenstock first became popular among young men and later on among flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism;[2] 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.[citation needed] During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals".[3] As of 2013 Birkenstock continue to enjoy high popularity with teenagers and college-aged young adults. Birkenstocks are referred to 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 license 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.

Union avoidance and busting[edit]

The Birkenstock Company, mainly under Karl Birkenstock, has a long history of union busting. The management split factories to discourage elections and had family members involved in counter organizing. Between the 1980s and 1996, more than 100 legal proceedings by unions and works council against the management were successful; once Karl Birkenstock had to pay DM 15,000 for calling a representative an idiot. Mitglied des Bundestags Ulrich Schmalz called Birkenstock a despot, stuck in the 19th century.[4]

Sie werden ganz zu Recht wie Aussätzige behandelt und verachtet. Und das ist auch das mindeste, was angemessen ist.

You are rightly treated as lepers and scorned. That is the minimum of what is appropriate.

—Karl Birkenstock[4]


  1. ^ "Imprint." Birkenstock. Retrieved on July 8, 2010.
  2. ^ Carr, Collie (12 March 2006). "Thank You for Insulting Our Sandals". The New York Times. Accessed 7 May 2012.
  3. ^ Eric (31 August 2003). "Who's Afraid of Howard Dean?" Classical Values. Accessed 7 May 2012.
  4. ^ a b Kirbach, Roland (17 May 1996). "Krieg im Werk" (in German). Die Zeit. p. 6. Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 2014-06-14. Sie werden ganz zu Recht wie Aussätzige behandelt und verachtet. Und das ist auch das mindeste, was angemessen ist. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]