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Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG
FounderJohann Adam Birkenstock
Pairs of Birkenstocks (original in the back, Birki's in the front).

Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG is a German shoe manufacturer headquartered in Neustadt (Wied), Germany. The company sells Birkenstocks, a German brand of sandals, and other shoes notable for their contoured cork and rubber footbeds (soles), which conform somewhat to the shape of their wearers' feet.


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, Johann's great-great-grandson Konrad Birkenstock developed the first contoured insole for use by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear.[1] Also in the year 1896 Karl opened two shoe stores in Frankfurt, Germany where he continued to make and sell his insoles.[2] 1902 saw the development of the first flexible arch-support for insertion into factory-made shoes; and in 1964, Karl Birkenstock developed these inserts into a shoe — thus producing the original prototype of the Birkenstock sandal. In 1925 Konrad Birkenstock expanded the company by buying a large factory in Friedberg, Hesse. After World War II (1939–1945) the Birkenstock sandal was popular among returning soldiers because of the orthopedic support.[3] Starting in 1963 and continuing into 1964 Karl Birkenstock released his first athletic sandal with a flexible footbed called Madrid. It soon became popular, especially among gymnasts.

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.[4] 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. In 2007 the owners of Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG purchased their long-standing distribution partner Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc. (BDUSA).

When Margot Fraser first started distributing them in San Francisco, California, she was unsuccessful. Later on in the 1970s a cultural revolution improved her business. 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.[5]

Nordstrom became the first department store to sell Birkenstock sandals in 1986. Prior to that, health food stores were Birkenstock's primary outlet.

In the early 1990s "Birks" enjoyed a surge of popularity among high-school and college-aged Generation Xers comparable to the 2000s popularity of Rainbow Sandals and Crocs,[6] followed by another comeback among teens and young adults in the early 2010s. During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals".[7]

In 2018, the company was given PETA's Libby Award for being the "Most Animal-Friendly Shoe Company."[8]


The footbed of the Birkenstock shoe was created in the 1930s and possesses four different layers that complete the shoes. The first layer of the shoe is the shock absorbent sole, followed by a layer of jute fibers, a firm corked footbed and another layer of jute. The last layer is the footbed line which is a soft suede.[9]


  1. ^ "History of Birkenstock @ BIRKENSTOCK".
  2. ^ "History: Birkenstock Group". Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  3. ^ e.V., Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus. "Johan Adam Birkenstock". Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  4. ^ "Talk with founder and former CEO of Birkenstock, Margot Fraser". 2010-04-07. Archived from the original on 2017-04-26. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  5. ^ Carr, Collie (12 March 2006). "Thank You for Insulting Our Sandals". The New York Times. Accessed 7 May 2012.
  6. ^ Lydia DePillis (15 November 2013)"The rise and fall and rise and fall of Crocs". The Washington Post Accessed 7 November 2015.
  7. ^ Eric (31 August 2003). "Who's Afraid of Howard Dean?" Classical Values. Accessed 7 May 2012.
  8. ^ Barbara Schneider-Levy,"Birkenstock Is Voted Most Animal-Friendly Shoe Company by PETA’s Youth Group,", 14 February 2018.
  9. ^ "Our Footbed". Retrieved 2017-05-07.

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