Birkenstock’s German-made, cork-sole shoes have become an institution among the fashion-focused and comfort-inclined crowds alike.
For this, Birkenstock Americas chief executive officer David Kahan will accept the Company of the Year award at the American Image Awards in New York on April 15.
“We stay true to our heritage,” Kahan explained of the company’s success. “We keep one foot in the past and another in the future. We stay incredibly relevant but never deviate from the brand’s DNA. Nothing we do compromises who we are, which has roots in handmade crafts, shoes that are made in Germany and an incredible heritage of comfort footwear.”
Birkenstock has made many strides to appeal to a more fashion-focused consumer. In recent months, the label has introduced a collaboration with Valentino as well as a slimmed-down footbed style, the Yao, for women who prefer a narrower shape. This adds to partnerships with companies including Rick Owens and Opening Ceremony.
“We like to say we don’t go to fashion, fashion comes to us,” Kahan said of the company’s ethos. “Models run from show to show wearing Birkenstocks, stylists wear them to run around to appointments, Hollywood celebrities have worn them for years. All we have done right now is taken what could have been our moment and created a moment in time — a launching pad to revolutionize the brand.”
That’s not to say that Birkenstock has alienated its pre-existing fan base of outdoorsmen and simplicity-seekers. “We tend not to talk about the ugly shoe thing because we say ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ You will see everyone in the shoes, there are stereotypical Birkenstock consumers, you will see them in the Malibu Country Mart, in Cannes, in the Upper East Side,” Kahan said of the shoes’ democratic appeal.
Kahan joined the company in 2013, shortly after the firm began revitalizing its executive ranks in 2012. Kahan declined to break down Birkenstock’s sales by region, but noted that, “The Americas and the U.S. are a very, very significant portion of our global business.”
Next up for Birkenstock is the rollout of closed-toe shoes. “We believe that in two to three years non-sandals will be one-third of our business,” Kahan said. “The holy grail is the feel of Birkenstocks inside a closed-toe shoe.”