Birkenstocks have long been associated with liberals, long-hairs, hairy females in Vermont and for some unknown reason, young Christian evangelicals. Birkenstocks started becoming foot-friendly around 1900, thanks to the founder's grandson, Konrad Birkenstock. He created the shoe's now-signature flexible arch support and contoured insole. However, it was his grandson Karl (not to be confused with his dad, Carl) who built the contoured arch right into the shoe - right in time to exploit the tie-dyed & patchouli-scented fashion sensibilities of the Age of Aquarius.
One Margot Fraser of California discovered Birkenstocks while attempting to alleviate the aching pain in her tourist-tired feet and when she brought them home, she began selling them as the first importer of Birkenstocks in the US. (image)
In the past few years, Birkenstocks have made quite the fashionable comeback, on fashionistas like Ashley Olsen and Julianne Moore, gussied up with mink as furkenstocks at Celine (left) and in collaboration with J. Crew men, the first such design partnership for the brand.
And when I saw these foil-festooned ones (above) from Stuart Weitzman for S'14 - for men, no less - I wondered if Birkenstock mania might be finally jumping the shark.
Perhaps amongst the hyper-trendy fashion set. But who cares about them anyway? They embody everything that's wrong with the fashion industry - from the waste of resources (ever read about how much water goes into producing the cotton and manufacturing for a single tee that will probably end up donated or unwanted), to the human costs of the army of sweatshop labor that constructs all this fast and disposable fash to feed the fashion cycle.
The rest of us with better things to do with our time and money appreciate stuff that is well-made and makes like easier rather than more complicated. Who has the energy any more when getting dressed to wrestle with questions like: Is it still in? How do I wear this? Crap, do I now need to buy X to make this work? "For a long time, we invested in this throwaway culture where everything was fast and new and you bought something for a season," notes Michael Williams of AContinuousLean.com. "There is push back to that now. People, and brands, too, are realizing there is value in heritage and in this classic stuff."
The Birkenstock gladiator update, in particular, is quite fabulous and goes with everything from jeans to shorts to summer skirts and dresses. (Talk about easy vacation packing.) The heritage quality of the brand - which I doubt plans to gild their stuff in gold foil - focuses instead on crafting an amazing product. It bathes your feet in love rather than permanent injuries and pricey visits to the podiatrist - and with proper care, will probably last longer than you.
Here's the podcast (Episode 63) I recorded about this fabulous footwear and the FOLKSPUN fashion tribe.
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott