Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making comfy footwear for hippies and supermodels

The Local’s series “Made in Germany” presents the best the country has to offer. And what better way to get things off on the right foot than by profiling the iconic Teutonic footwear maker Birkenstock?

From luxury cars to precision machinery, “Made in Germany” still means quality craftsmanship around the world. But the Teutonic attention to detail goes far beyond engineering. This series will feature a diverse array of products from both well-known German brands and less famous firms. But no matter big or small, all of them are focused on being the best at what they do.

Birkenstock, the “transcendent” comfy German footwear known all around the world, turned 235 last year – marking a supportive step for mankind. Since 1774, the Birkenstock family has followed the foot, starting with shoemaker Johann Adam Birkenstock. His grandson, Konrad Birkenstock, ran two shoe stores in Frankfurt when he hit on the idea that would change the shape of footwear for years to come. Konrad noticed that shoe soles were flat – but the feet that fit in them are not. So, in 1897, he designed a special inlay that followed the natural contours of the foot.

His invention was an instant hit. Popular all over Germany, the curvy, supportive Birkenstock shoe inlay made inroads as far away as Austria. During World War I, Konrad Birkenstock worked in an orthopedic clinic, designing shoes for injured soldiers. By 1925, Konrad Birkenstock Jr. built a large factory in Hesse that ran day and night producing the blue inserts that the family business exported, now, all over Europe. The company survived the war period intact, and in 1947, a book detailing the “Birkenstock System” was published.

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