Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG is a shoe manufacturer headquartered in Neustadt (Wied), Germany. The company sells Birkenstock, a German brand of sandals and other shoes notable for their contoured cork and rubber footbeds, which conform somewhat to the shape of their wearers' feet. Representative products include the two-strap Arizona sandal and the Boston clog.
The Birkenstock brand traces its roots to Johann Adam Birkenstock, registered in 1774 as a "vassal and shoemaker" in local church archives in the small Hessian village of Langen-Bergheim. In 1897 Johann's great-great-grandson Konrad Birkenstock developed the first contoured insole for use by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear. 1902 saw the development of the first flexible arch-support for insertion into factory-made shoes; and in 1964, Karl Birkenstock developed these inserts into a shoe — thus producing the original prototype of the Birkenstock sandal.
Since 1967 these shoes have been sold in the United States, as well as elsewhere. American Margot Fraser "discovered" Birkenstock sandals while on a holiday in Germany. She gained relief from a foot condition, and founded a trading company called Birkenstock Footprint Sandals, Inc., in Novato, California, based on her enthusiasm for the sandals. Renamed Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc., in 2005, the company remained until 2007 the exclusive importer and distributor of Birkenstock name-brand products in the United States. In 2007 the owners of Birkenstock Orthopädie GmbH & Co. KG purchased their long-standing distribution partner Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc. (BDUSA).
In the United States, Birkenstock first became popular among young men and later on among flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism; in the early 1990s "Birk" enjoyed a surge of popularity among high-school and college-aged Generation Xers comparable to the 2000s popularity of Crocs. During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals". As of 2013 Birkenstock continue to enjoy high popularity with teenagers and college-aged young adults. With the dramatic increase in of popularity of flip-flop and thong sandal styles, Birkenstock's avant-garde thonged styles--such as the Ramses and the Medina--have become increasingly popular among both men and women.