Birkenstock: Behind the Brand - The unfaltering rise of a footwear giant

For most of us looking for a finely crafted pair of shoes, we like to go to brand’s with a lot of experience. But when it comes to longevity and time earned expertise, the brand we are talking about today makes its competitors look like mere footwear toddlers. Known to have been crafting their wares as early as 1774, the Birkenstock brand has become so iconic, that their reach extends to every corner of the planet. If casual comfort, and effortless style are things which prick up your ears (as they rightfully should!), then Birkenstock has to be the final word.

But for all our appreciation of this remarkable company, we thought it might be a good idea to have a little think about how they got to where they are today! Won’t you join us?

The year is 1774, and in the rural German countryside, two brothers are painstakingly hand-crafting the shoes which would give birth to an empire. They oversee every step, from the production of the leather, forming the last, to hammering on every sole with their bare hands. Their era isn’t one of prosperity, but of economical turmoil and back-breaking labour, and for the poorest communities, a single pair of shoes was something you would have for life, and even pass them down to the next generation, so they had to be robust! Enter the brothers Birkenstock.


Flash forward more than a hundred years and the fruits of the Industrial Revolution have fed much of continental Europe, and transformed economies and everyday life for its inhabitants. Railroads changed the way that business could be done both in reach and volume, and the invention of electricity empowered cities, pushing them forward into a brighter future. New factories and machinery rapidly developed the way that the brand crafted their shoes, no longer with the need to perform all of the jobs by hand, and allowing them to up their production to meet the demands of the emerging middle class of hungry consumers. And after all, why shouldn’t a forward thinking society wear forward thinking shoes?

Konrad Birkenstock, the great grandson of Johann Adam Birkenstock was instrumental in the company’s development, moving production to Frankfurt in 1895, and began working on the world’s first anatomically shaped shoe last. With careful consideration, the young Konrad crafted a last with a balled heel for comfort, a malleable sole, and most importantly the distinction between one’s left and right foot! If not for this man, we might all still be shuffling around the streets in incredible discomfort, and for that, we salute you Konrad!


Never one to rest on his own accomplishments, the young Herr Birkenstock felt that his customers deserved more than just separate shoes for each foot; he wholeheartedly believed they should be comfortable too! And so in 1902, he developed the first insole. Previously only used to heal damaged feet, he pioneered the use of insoles for everyday foot health, experimenting for the following decade with materials to provide the best comfort, and in 1913 he applied for the copyright of the company’s first orthopaedic footbed, made from latex and cork. His new found freedom of travel allowed to neighbouring countries to push his new invention, quickly winning over the masses, and as a result he was able to set up a purpose built facility in Friedberg to mass produce footbeds for the first time.

When the baton was handed to the next generation of Birkenstock, Konrad’s son Carl was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. In 1936 he developed a shoe under the ideology of Naturgewolltes Gehen, roughly translated to ‘walking as nature intended’, a shoe which would prove impossible to mass produce, but would pave the way for the future of the company. Now onto a new generation, and another Karl! In 1963, Karl Birkenstock (son of Carl) introduced a comfortable sandal which was directly inspired by the Brutalist movement in modern architecture, a principal where the exposed workings of a building would add to its beauty. And while this shoe didn’t held more court with healthcare professionals than the fashion focused, its conception would lay the groundwork for the designs that we know and love today.


Crafted from natural materials, and with comfort at their core, Birkenstock released the Zurich sandal in 1964, the Arizona in 1973, and the Boston in 1976. And from here the designs have changed very little simply because sometimes when it’s right, it’s right. Of course the company have attracted collaborations from some of the worlds most cutting edge brands and fashion designers, but undeniably the brand has reached a peak for which the determined German family was striving. Whether its on the catwalk, in the factories, or on the feet of tech entrepreneurs, Birkenstock’s shoes have an undeniable appeal, and an unparalleled comfort. So next time you throw on your favourite Stocks, don’t forget to say a little thank you to the family who just wouldn’t give up in their quest for your comfort.