When the actress Margot Robbie wore pink Birkenstocks in her role as Barbie in the film of the same name, released this summer, in order to leave the heels behind and travel sprawled around the world, the fashion impulse that these ugly but comfortable German sandals had already achieved was definitively consolidated. Comfortable and practical, Birkenstock flip flops were considered for decades the epitome of kindness and rest for the foot, as well as a horror for the eyes. In Spain and in southern European countries that receive German tourism, the arrival of male tourists in shorts and sandals of this brand with socks has given rise to as many evil jokes as expressions of pure horror.
Part of the evolution towards the cool universe is due to Oliver Reichert, executive director of the company since 2013, the first in that position without relation to the founding family. Former reporter in Congo and Kosovo, television journalist, he had left the direction of the sports channel DSF when he was signed by this company of renowned tradition. It was founded in 1774 by the shoemaker Johann Adam Birkenstock in the town of Langen-Bergheim, near Frankfurt. “Customers buy our products for a thousand bad reasons, but they all return for the same reason,” says Oliver Reichert. Although he says that the reason is one, he then cites three: functionality, quality and tradition of the company.
In 1897, another Birkenstock (Konrad) invented the first contoured insole, and his grandson Karl created orthopedic sandals and clogs in 1963 that delighted healthcare professionals. The brand has always boasted of designing from the beginning thinking about the anatomy of the foot. In the seventies, Birkenstocks were liked by hippies in the United States, and Steve Jobs himself – who died in 2011 – was an early admirer and user. In 2003, model Heidi Klum designed her own Birkenstock collection.
Although the journey of this serious footwear towards the latest fashion had begun years ago, the knock came at the beginning of 2021, when L Catterton, an American investment firm in which French billionaire Bernard Arnault and his luxury conglomerate LVMH own shares. , acquired a majority stake in Birkenstock, then valued at around €4 billion. Reichert assures that he convinced him. “I called Bernard Arnault, and he received me at his offices in Paris in the middle of the pandemic. The deal was launched six weeks later,” he declared a week ago to the French business magazine Challenges.
Its listing on the New York Stock Exchange was scheduled with great fanfare for October 2023. However, Birkenstock stumbled and had a disappointing debut in the US market, with more than 12% below its initial public offering (IPO). on the first day, October 11. According to analysts, investors probably estimated that consumer demand for these sandals would be lower than expected.
But this setback does not take away from Reichert the accumulated merits. When he took over in 2013, the company sold 12.3 million pairs of sandals; Today it sells 30 million. The new CEO brought order when he arrived: he calmed down disputes between heirs, separated family and brand, and simplified the corporate structure. 95% of sandals and clogs, with their legendary cork insole, are still made in Germany. Reichert, 51, leads by example. Birkenstocks are a very convenient option for a man like him, who is six feet tall and wears a size 46. In fact, he played American football. He owns many pairs on the Bavarian farm where he lives with his wife, four children, two dogs and several horses.
Meanwhile, Birkenstock has partnership agreements with luxury fashion brands such as Dior, Stüssy, Manolo Blahnik and Rick Owens. Despite the skid on the foreign stock market, the brand can enjoy an advantage: young and old, fashion lovers and health fetishists appreciate comfort like never before.