Part of my daily commutes to and from work involve A LOT of walking, and it’s just resulted in discomfort due to the lack of support of my shoes! I noticed I was waking up with pain in different areas: knees, feet, back, hips and shins, and I knew something had to change! I don’t want to end up with problems when I’m older!
I was given a very generous gift from my aunt- A pair of Birkenstocks! After walking all over the city with her on her visit- she with her comfortable Birkenstocks, and me in my supposed walking shoes (with hardly any heel support for my high arches!) a generous decision was made. Thanks so much, Cynthia!
And now, as a proud owner of my first pair of Birkenstocks, (I won’t take them off for anything- they’ve become even my replacement slippers!) I have to share the interesting and scary details I learned on my shopping trip, as well as this article I found.
The Birkenstock family knows footwear. And they should – they’ve been making shoes for over 225 years. This famous family can trace its first shoemaker to Johann Adam Birkenstock, born in 1754 in a small German village and officially listed in church records as a cobbler at the age of twenty. To offer some historical perspective, keep in mind that this was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the presidency of George Washington. In other words, this is a business with a long history.
Over 100 years later, in 1896, Johann’s grandson, Konrad Birkenstock developed a theory that was revolutionary for the time: since the soles of feet weren’t flat, the insides of shoes shouldn’t be either. Previously, shoes were created without regard for the shape of the foot and while providing protection, they usually weren’t very comfortable. Konrad is credited with designing the first shoe with a contoured insole, an approach soon adopted by other makers of custom footwear.
Six years later, Konrad Birkenstock expanded on his original idea and developed a flexible arch support to be inserted into factory-made shoes. This insert provided greater foot comfort to the masses, and soon arch supports were being sold in a dozen European countries. Leading medical specialists saw the benefits of the approach and endorsed the Birkenstock system.
In 1964, Konrad’s son Karl took the arch support one step further and designed a shoe around it. No longer was the renowned support available only as an addition to already manufactured shoes. The Birkenstock sandal was born!
So how did this revolutionary footwear make the hop from Europe toAmerica? In 1966, aUSclothing designer, Margot Fraser, was vacationing inGermany. She had a history of chronic foot pain and walking all day while inEuropeonly aggravated the problem. On the advice of a helpful Bavarian health spa trainer, Margot tried Birkenstock sandals. Enjoying immediate and welcome relief, Margot became determined to share her discovery with American women.
The initial reaction of American shoe retailers was not encouraging, however, and included remarks like “Women will never wear those shoes!” (Remember that this was when Twiggy, miniskirts and go-go boots ruled the fashion scene.) But Margot persevered. A wholehearted belief in the product fueled her determination and eventually she succeeded in developing a distribution network on the West Coast. Under Margot’s leadership, the company has thrived.
Today Birkenstock Footprint Sandals, Inc. is located in northernCaliforniaand is still run by President Margot Fraser. In its third decade as the exclusiveUSdistributor, this company is based on the belief that comfortable, healthy footwear contributes to happiness and wellbeing.
Comfort is the Goal
To ensure that end, all Birkenstocks share some important design elements:
- An orthopedic footbed – This follows the contours of the foot and provides support while walking. Depending on the model and its intended use, the footbed is made from a lightweight resilient cork/latex blend, washable water-based polyurethane or felt covered polyurethane.
- The famous arch support – This ensures even weight distribution and reduces foot and leg muscle fatigue.
- Deep heelcups – These keep the foot’s natural padding directly under the heel bone, where it provides the most comfort, just as Mother Nature intended.
- Raised toe bar – This encourages the gripping motion of your toes, exercising your legs and improving circulation. Poor circulation contributes significantly to muscle fatigue – remember how you felt the last time you spend several hours walking very slowly through a museum?
- EVA soles – These lightweight soles are made from ethyl vinyl acetate to be tough enough for long wear, but sufficiently flexible for comfort. An average step exerts over 500 pounds of pressure on your foot and these soles help absorb that shock.
So who wears these shoes that elicited mostly laughs during the 60s? People who spend long hours on their feet. The polyurethane clogs are favored by those who want to protect their feet from water, mud and dirt during activities like gardening and camping. Workers in industrial environments and in kennels and stables are also fans because these clogs can be cleaned with a hose and even run through the dishwasher on a moderate heat setting.
Birkenstock leather sandals and clogs are favorites of those who stand or walk for long periods including retail store and restaurant staff, and professionals in medical offices, labs and hospitals.
Any apparel is more enjoyable if it fits well. A few tips to ensure maximum comfort with Birkenstock footwear include:
- The cork/latex footbed molds to an individual’s foot over the first several weeks of use. Give your shoes a little time to shape to your feet.
- Most of us have been wearing shoes with elevated heels for years. The deep Birkenstock heelcup often requires a short adjustment period for muscles and tendons before complete comfort is achieved. For the first two weeks limit wear to a couple of hours daily.
- If you wear your Birkenstocks with socks, twisting can sometimes occur. Usually a quick spray of Static Guard will elevate the situation.
While none of us would consider strapping on Johann Birkenstock’s flat, rigid shoes today, much of our current footwear is neither comfortable nor good for our feet. If you share the belief that shoes may effect one’s overall wellbeing, perhaps you should consider trying the approach that completely changed one woman’s life.
This is what my beautiful Birks look like- I don’t think I’ll ever go back to anything else! They are handmade in Germany!
* Apparently there are currently 2 Birkenstock brothers making the shoes. One is in China using cheaper materials of lesser quality while the other maintains his commitment to quality. MAKE SURE if you invest in a pair, that they are certified hand-made from Germany!