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 a German by the name of Johann Adam Birkenstock. Birkenstock was registered in 1774 as a "subject and shoemaker" in local church archives. In 1897 it was Johann's grandson, Konrad Birkenstock, who developed the first contoured insole to be used by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear. The year 1902 saw another first in shoemaking by Konrad, when he developed the first flexible arch support to be inserted in factory-made shoes. In 1964, these inserts were developed further into a shoe by Karl Birkenstock, and what would become the Birkenstock sandal was created.
Since 1967, these shoes have been sold in the USA. 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, it remains 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, the sandals are most often used as house slippers, but in the United States they have become a part of everyday clothing from professionals to blue collar workers, even to the entertainment industry. Heidi Klum designs footwear for Birkenstock and wears them as well.
When not used as work footwear, people usually wear Birkenstocks with casual clothing.
In the United States, Birkenstocks were first popular among young men and later on flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism; in the early 1990s "Birks" enjoyed a surge of popularity among high school and college-aged Generation Xers comparable to the current (2000s) popularity of flip-flops. During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals". Birkenstocks still continue to enjoy high popularity with teenagers and college-aged young adults. Birkenstocks 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 license from the original Birkenstock company, featuring contoured footbeds. These brands include Betula, Tatami, Papillio, Birki's, Alpro's and Footprints. In 2007, Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc., was acquired and formed into a new corporation named Birkenstock USA, LP.
- "Imprint." Birkenstock. Retrieved on July 8, 2010.
- Carr, Coeli (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.
Further reading 
- "Chasing Birkenstocks". Sociology 221: Sociology of Work Leisure and Consumption. Lewis & Clark College. 1997. Retrieved 7 May 2012.