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Birkenstock is launching a cork skincare line. Yes, really

After 245 years, the German sandal company is pivoting into a wellness company centered on…cork.

Birkenstock is launching a cork skincare line. Yes, really
[Photos: Birkenstock]

Have you ever stared lovingly at your Birkenstock cork sandals as they gently cradle your foot in orthopedically-engineered comfort and thought to yourself, “I wonder if there is an anti-aging cream made from the same material in this footbed?”

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Neither have I.

But for the past few years, Birkenstock has been secretly working on the skincare line you didn’t know you needed. Today, the 245-year-old German company launches an entirely new category of products called Birkenstock Natural Care. It will consist of a line of skincare products ranging from anti-aging creams to revitalizing shampoo, formulated with cork oak bark, which Birkenstock believes can soothe redness and increase collagen production in skin. The products will be squarely in the premium price range, with lip balm for $22 and intensive moisturizing cream for $100. Starting today, the products will be sold at Birkenstock’s Venice store in Los Angeles, and in October, it will become available on the Birkenstock website and at Birkenstock Soho stores. Starting next year, they’ll be sold at third party retailers as well, including Nordstrom.

[Photo: Birkenstock]

It’s a big moment for Birkenstock, which for two centuries has built its entire brand on a single, instantly-recognizable product: Footwear with a cork footbed. But David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, says that this is part of a broader strategy of transforming Birkenstock from a shoe brand into a wellness brand. “We have a brand that is consistent with health, wellness, and all things that are natural,” he says. “There are certain extensions of that identity that are more logical.”

After much strategizing, Birkenstock has determined that the natural next step is becoming a full fledged wellness platform. In 2017, the brand quietly launched Birkenstock Sleep Systems, a collection of beds that are designed to conform to the natural contours of our body. (Birkenstock made the connection between its sandals and its mattresses fairly straightforward for consumers by drawing a connection between its footbeds to its, uh, bed beds.) And now, with its skincare line, Birkenstock seems to be making the case that it is not in the business of a particular product at all, but rather a purveyor of all things related to health and wellness. It’s a mission that is along the same lines as Goop, whose founder, Gwyneth Paltrow, happens to be a big fan of Birkenstock sandals.

[Photo: Birkenstock]
Birkenstock could have easily gone in a different direction and chosen to become a fashion brand. Over the last few decades, the company has become a go-to for people in the world of high fashion, from the Olsen twins to Cara Delevingne to Alexa Chung. Birkenstock has capitalized on this by doing collaborations with top designer brands, including, most recently Valentino, Rick Owens, and Opening Ceremony.

A natural move would have been for Birkenstock to transition into being a fashion label, creating clothes and accessories that fit with the brand’s normcore aesthetic. But Kahan says that this wouldn’t have been true to what Birkenstock stands for. In my previous reporting about Birkenstock, I’ve highlighted how the brand does not adapt to each new fashion trend, but rather stays consistent in its aesthetic and orthopedic focus. “It’s a lot of responsibility to be a steward of brand that has such a long history,” Kahan says. “We have to stay true to our brand’s DNA.”

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That DNA is focused on comfort, high-quality materials and health, and both mattresses and skin creams fit under this umbrella. But the brand is also trying to make a more explicit connection between the skincare line and its shoes by using cork as a main ingredient in both. As Birkenstock was developing this new line, it conducted lab tests that suggested that cork bark extract had the potential to reduce skin redness, stimulate collagen formation, and combat free radicals. “We’re already one of the largest consumers of cork in the world,” Kahan says. “And now we’re beginning to learn about all the healing properties of cork.”

[Photo: Birkenstock]

The brand also emphasizes the line’s sustainability. It says it will not cut down any cork trees, but rather will remove the bark from mature trees, which regenerates every nine years. The bottles themselves are designed with a refillable system that allows you to pop out the empty cartridge of cream, and pop in a new one. In other words, the new line was carefully calibrated to cater to the tastes of wellness devotees, who tend to care about nontoxic ingredients and sustainable packaging.

Kahan believes that the average Birkenstock consumer happens to be interested in wellness. The big question here is whether Birkenstock customers will be able to make the mental switch to thinking of Birkenstock as more than just the makers of their favorite sandals. Kahan recognizes that it may, on the surface, be a surprising move from Birkenstock. However, he thinks Birkenstock fans believe strongly in the brand’s commitment to quality, which will go a long way in getting them to give the new line a go.

“As long as we bring forth a category that is consistent with our consumers’ lifestyle, I think we will be met with a lot of acceptance,” Kahan says. “So, really, the question is why not skincare?”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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