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Balancing Purpose & Hype with Birkenstock
Executing a Purpose-Driven Strategy in the New Era of Media
Birkenstock is a rare brand that is able to simultaneously appeal to counterculture youth, pro-athletes, high fashion circles, and even the hypebeast community. While the classic silhouettes haven’t changed much since their inception, Birkenstock is no stranger to collaborations. They work across the fashion spectrum with the likes of Stussy, Dior, KITH, and Rick Owens. The brand never compromises on certain brand-defining features like the cork footbed and the unique sole patterns of its sandals. In a market of seemingly gratuitous collaborations, Birkenstock is a case study in deliberate product strategy that doesn’t rely on trends but simply on authenticity, brand purpose, and design functionality. Ahead of it’s $8 billion IPO, the success of Birkenstock reveals important insights about a purpose-led brand strategy, maintaining a consistent design language throughout projects, and being forward-thinking while still honoring a brand’s legacy.
Due to the rise of TikTok, content is becoming less overly-produced and more casual as Gen-Z and Millennials crave more authenticity in their media feeds. A more colloquial media feed coupled with increased 80s/90s nostalgia now allows for comfort-oriented brands like Birkenstock to thrive as this idea of effortless, nonchalance is now the new cool. Their products lean into various aesthetics, from ‘Coastal Grandma’, to ‘Quiet Luxury’, to Former Sneakerhead'. Despite the many subcultures that that brand touches, their paid media strategy still relies largely on comfort.
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In 2022, the brand launched its first global paid content campaign on The New York Times entitled, ‘Ugly for a Reason.’ The campaign was a three-part documentary highlighting the complexity of foot health and why healthy shoes look the way they do. Just as Birkenstock started gaining traction in the high fashion community, the brand subversively released this campaign which embraces their reputation for being unstylish and emphasizes wellbeing over aesthetic appeal. Few brands are able to execute a purpose-driven strategy quite like this. In the media mix, your brand purpose must unwaveringly be the core of your creative assets. The user generated content will then further contextualize your product. Between fashion archive & moodboard accounts like Hidden NY posting photos of celebrities in the sandals to Steve Jobs’ Birkenstocks selling for $218,000 at auction, Birkenstock has officially entered the hype circle.
Birkenstock has famously turned down collaborations with legendary streetwear brand, Supreme, citing that Birkenstock’s core belief is product evolution over branding. Birkenstock has however collaborated with equally legendary streetwear icon Stussy in 2021, a collaboration that was an inflection point for the brand which established it as a mainstay in both menswear and streetwear. Stussy is similarly discerning in its collaborations, often working with niche menswear brands like Our Legacy and Martine Rose. When the two collaborated on the Boston Clog, a new color palette was born that gave a fresh, modern twist to a classic and instantly gave Birkenstock street cred amongst skateboarders and style-enthusiasts. Stussy x Birkenstock pairs on the secondary market like StockX are selling for as high as $1,000. Naturally once limited releases reach critical mass on the resale market, it eventually drives sales and awareness to the more attainable, general release models. If you can’t own the Stussy pair, you can still enjoy the same comfort and style from a less exclusive pair that you can pick up at the mall.
The same can be said about the Dior x Birkenstock collaboration. It’s a perfect example of something that the market had never seen before because both brands’ design languages were so clearly prevalent in the end product and it was something only those two brands could conceive. The silhouette is uniquely Birkenstock, with the characteristic shape and cork. However, we see the iconic Dior buckle and the Dior monogram at the sole of the shoe. From brands like Jil Sander to Marimekko, Birkenstock has collaborated with almost every tier of brand in the fashion space in a very tasteful way without being overly reliant on branding. Birkenstock has kicked off what is hopefully a chain reaction of purpose & wellness in the fashion space.