The Trendsetters: The creatives behind the buzziest consumer trends
Birkenstock is having a moment. If you’ve been on TikTok at any point this year, chances are you’ve seen the brand’s Boston clog or Arizona shoe. Over the past two years, the nearly 250-year-old company has managed to become one of the most sought-after shoe brands.
At the helm of Birkenstock is CEO Oliver Reichert, the German brand’s first leader from outside the founding family. Since assuming the role in 2009, Reichert has been on a mission to transform Birkenstock into a global lifestyle brand. That’s driven company commitments to quality and craftsmanship, as well as a handful of strategic partnerships with Dior, Staud, Jil Sander and Proenza Schouler, among other luxury brands.
“We’re the only ‘fashion’ brand that is not defined by fashion. We do not chase trends. Trends come and go, but truly great things last forever,” Reichert said. “Our ‘function over form’ philosophy allows us to transcend fashion. We’ve always remained true to ourselves and have never compromised on our values for short-term sales.”
Reichert’s strategies have translated to impressive numbers: In 2021, private equity firm L Catterton bought a majority stake in the company for nearly $5 billion. According to a November report by Custom Market Insights, the global orthotic insoles market is estimated to be worth $6.75 Billion by 2030, and Birkenstock is expected to be a key player in the field.
Birkenstock launched its first global brand campaign in July, titled “Ugly for a Reason.” It included a three-part documentary, highlighting Birkenstock’s mission around foot health.
“Our products resonate very strongly with the secular trends of casualization, health and a responsible consumption behavior that embraces long-lasting products,” said Reichert.
Now, the brand is building on its momentum by expanding into the luxury space with the launch of a new line, 1774.
What accomplishments are you most proud of this year?
“We managed to maneuver our company very successfully through pretty stormy weather. As in previous years, we have grown very strongly in all channels and all categories, and I don’t see that changing. Demand for our products remains high in all parts of the world. It is our mission to provide universal access to the Birkenstock footbed and provide our fans with a wide range of product options for all occasions and price points. That’s why we invest a lot of money in innovations and the expansion of our capacities. We recently broke ground on our new production factory in Pasewalk, Germany, which will increase our productivity to more than 40 million pairs of shoes a year and is the single largest investment in company history at 110 million euro. Everything we make comes from our own factories, and we never compromise the quality and craftsmanship that goes into our footwear – even if demand spikes.”
How would you describe your impact and focus since joining the company?
“The brand has been undergoing a profound transformation, evolving from a mid-sized family-owned company into a consumer-centric global lifestyle brand. I pushed every single button and changed everything to drive momentum. Birkenstock is more than a brand; it’s rather like a religion. But this energy had to be released. We invited more creative people to the brand who were grounded in the idea of doing something bigger than just selling a shoe. From time to time, in the past, Birkenstock came up like a whale to the surface to say, ‘Here we are.’ And everyone in the fashion industry remembers, ‘Oh, Birkenstock, it’s a nice shoe. It’s very comfortable.’ Then we disappeared again. So keeping it relevant, at full strength and in full variety, that’s the major thing we’ve done.”
What plans do you have for 1774 and the brand’s expansion to luxury?
“We will continue to fill the gap between high fashion and functionality, and reimagine classic shapes while pushing the boundaries with like-minded partners. When you have a 248-year-old company, you have to be careful not to end up like a mausoleum, with everything locked away. Otherwise, you will die in your own greatness. I want to keep the roof open. And this is what we do with 1774 — we invite influential and creative people to come and have a picnic with us. I don’t need the money; I need their energy stream, their view and their interpretation of the brand.”
How has the ongoing pandemic impacted the company and your focus?
“When everyone was at home, people still cared about their desk, their chair, their jogging bottoms and, yes, their footwear. Birkenstock was a part of this self-reinvention, and the casualization of workwear during the pandemic was mirrored by the mass casualization of fashion. It increased the number of Birkenstock fans globally. Birkenstock literally became the home office shoe during the pandemic.
Personally, I was impressed by our team’s agility to rise to the challenges. We own our own supply chain and [were responsible for] organizing processes in a situation where the markets were collapsing. In this situation, I also became aware of the responsibility we have to our medium-sized suppliers. When the tanneries in Northern Italy had to close for weeks because of the pandemic, we made commitments to our partners to ensure the economic stability of their operations.”
Moving forward, what excites you most about fashion, and also retail?
“I am not interested in fashion trends at all. When you manage a brand with a heritage of a quarter of a millennium, you think in completely different timeframes. We are beyond fashion. Retail, on the other hand, is quite important for us as we are a haptic product and a brand with a true purpose. I’m not a big fan of global retail concepts, though, where every store looks the same, whether you’re in New York, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo; the magic of retail also lies in respecting the respective context in the concept, and of course it helps if you are close to the market. The strength of Birkenstock lies in the fact that business determines our actions. The focus is on our consumers, our fans. I’m not a believer of centralized directives. Birkenstock is a very democratic brand, so we try to be as close to the market as possible. Our markets, therefore, have a lot of legroom. That’s how I empower our teams to make things happen.”
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