Birkenstock: cult sandals on the New York Stock Exchange

With the flotation of Birkenstock on the New York Stock Exchange, the manufacturer of the comfortable sandals with an eco-friendly look has established itself in the world of hipsters.

A special chapter in the company’s almost 250-year history has been opened: the traditional German sandal manufacturer Birkenstock has filed its IPO with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The volume of the share placement remains unclear for now.

We associate the Birkenstock brand primarily with sandals. But the company also includes beds and mattresses in its product range, with lines named after cities such as Bangkok, Canberra and Montreal.

Traditional German Brand Birkenstock Makes History with New York Stock Exchange Debut

“Birkenstock is a cult brand,” says Hendrik Leber, an executive at administrator Acatis, referring mainly to the United States. “Of course, you can’t compare it with fashion in Milan or Paris,” he says. That seems to be the secret of their success: they have consistently opted for health and sustainability, leaving fashion dictates to a large extent to one side.

A long company history

The company’s roots go back to 1774, when the shoemaker Johann Adam Birkenstock founded a small company in Frankfurt am Main. At the end of World War II, the factory moved to Bad Honnef on the Rhine. Today, it is located a few kilometers upstream in Linz.

The first fitness sandals were launched on the market in 1963. The first customers were health care professionals who wore them in hospitals and doctors’ practices. Later, they also gained a following among supporters of the environmental movement and hippies.

In the meantime, the company also sells shoes, socks, belts, bags, natural cosmetics and, more recently, beds. To this day, the products are characterized more by their practical advantages than by their beauty. “Birkenstock has always prioritized two aspects: practical and functional design, and quality. And the functionality of these products, regardless of their beauty, is really valued today,” marketing professor Fernando Fastoso tells DW.

Steve Jobs used them

Some famous people have appreciated these virtues. For example, Apple founder Steve Jobs, whose Birkenstock sandals were sold at auction for nearly $2,750. Famous models, such as Heidi Klum and Kate Moss, also wear these shoes. “These are people who could buy any brand in the world. But Birkenstock is special,” says Fernando Fastoso.

Thus, the sandals have also become a favorite of hipsters, and Birkenstock is attracting the interest of major investors in the luxury goods segment. Two years ago, the French group LVMH, which owns brands such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, invested in the company through the private company L Catterton, linked to the consortium. At the time, Birkenstock’s estimated value was close to 4 billion euros.

“Made in Germany”

The company has not always treated its employees with kid gloves. Until 2012, women were paid €1 less per hour than men with equal tasks and qualifications. In 2013, this injustice was put to an end, following a labor court ruling.

From mid-2021, Oliver Reichert will head the Birkenstock business. He is the first person from outside the family to take the helm. And that, judging by the results, has suited him well. Experts estimate that the company could soon be worth around 8 billion euros when it is floated on the stock exchange.

Business circles say that production will continue in Germany. After all, the made in Germany label is also part of Birkenstock’s success.

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