Incredible story of the $1.3bn Birkenstock CEO Oliver Reichert

Back in 2018, Oliver Reichert said he “didn’t give a s*** about fashion”.

It’s perhaps surprising for a man responsible for creating a multi-billion dollar global fashion brand.

The former news reporter took over famed sandal brand Birkenstock in 2013 when it struggling badly. Now, it’s worth billions.

Founded in 1774 in Germany, the brand known for its flat, orthopaedic-style sandals which conform to the shape of their wearer’s feet was victim of a three-way power struggle.

After Karl Birkenstock retired from the company in the early 2000s, his three sons, Christian, Stephan and Alex Birkenstock, took over management and ownership.

Each of them had different ideas for the company’s future and ended up creating multiple competing product lines and subsidiaries.

The circuit breaker came in 2013 when Stephan sold his stake to the two brothers who recruited Mr Reichert, an outsider, to restructure and lead the company.

Despite Mr Reichert knowing nothing about fashion the move proved to be a masterstroke.

Mr Reichert, according to the New York Times, quickly set about reorganising the 38 subsidiaries into a group with cohesive sales and distribution channels.

His aim was to transform what he called “this sleeping giant” into a global sandal sensation.

Savvy collaborations with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Louis Vuitton and Manolo Blahnik, primarily via the Birkenstock premium line 1774, followed.

“Birkenstock customers had this longstanding reputation for being female, old and sick,” Mr Reichert told the New York Times. “But we loved them because they loved our products for the right reasons — functionality and purpose.”

“Those ideals are why we exist,” he continued. “But I was also afraid we would wake up in our own museum, surrounded by traditional pieces that had no relevance to today. Which is why it is important to build bridges to other people’s creativity and energy – to offer them a white canvas and the paint and say: ‘Go!’”

This pushed Birkenstock, initially popular with “hippies, grannies and tourists”, into the fashion mainstream.

Major celebrity endorsements followed. Soon everyone from Kaia Gerber to Rihanna was sporting a pair.

In 2016 the Birkenstock website was launched. Online sales now account for about 40 per cent of purchases.

But it was during the pandemic that the shoe really took hold as people embraced the sandal as work-from-home footwear.

In 2022 alone the company sold 30 million shoes with sales totalling $1.3 billion.

A massive cameo in the biggest film of the year, Barbie, where the main character, after a journey of liberation, sports a pair, also lifted sales.

This week Birkenstock took another giant step with its debut on the New York stock market.

While the opening share price was muted, Mr Reichert remained unfazed telling reporters: “When people say Birkenstock ‘is having a moment’ I reply ‘this moment has lasted for 250 years, and it will continue to last’.”

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