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Nearly 250-Year-Old Shoe Company Sees A Spike In Popularity Amid The Pandemic


When the Birkenstock shoe company was created, the Declaration of Independence was still two years away from being written. So it only took 246 years for the humble sandal to become what this fashion expert calls the world's hottest shoe.

MORGANE LE CARE: This culture searches for Birkenstocks. They went up 225%. Birkenstocks were the hottest products.


That's Morgane Le Care from Lyst, a fashion search engine for online shopping. Every few months, Lyst compiles data from across the web on searches for brands and, of course, sales. And from April through June, Birkenstocks just owned the footwear category.

LE CARE: This quarter, obviously, there was a lockdown. So people were not going to the office anymore. And it was not about being glamorous. It was all about being comfortable.

SHAPIRO: Even before the pandemic, Birkenstocks had become an unlikely high-fashion crossover. In 2017, models wore them on the runway at Paris Fashion Week. There have been collaborations with luxury brands like Valentino and Rick Owens.

VANEK SMITH: And now in 2020, Birks are considered the king of what is known as the ugly shoe category.

LE CARE: After all the sneakers and the Crocs and the UGGs and the Tevas, every couple of months, there's a new ugly, old shoe that makes a comeback.

VANEK SMITH: It's been such a major comeback that many retailers are now sold out. Even Morgane Le Care, who works at a fashion shopping website cannot find a pair.

LE CARE: I keep looking. And maybe one day, I'll finally have it in my size (laughter).

SHAPIRO: While some search in vain during this pandemic. Others have hoarded, the double strapped sandals, echoes of toilet paper or hand sanitizer.

STEFF YOTKA: I actually counted, and I have five pairs of Birkenstocks. I have a Birkenstock for every outfit.

SHAPIRO: Steff Yotka reports on emerging fashion trends for Vogue - yes, Vogue. She says it's not just Birkenstocks. Comfort fashion has taken over the industry.

YOTKA: We just saw the digital fashion weeks that happens in Europe. And some of the most popular items were hoodies, track pants, completely knit dresses that you could wear at home and feel super cozy in.

VANEK SMITH: For Yotka, this is part of a long-term effect the pandemic will have on the way we dress. Forget suffering for fashion. These days, just wear what you want.

YOTKA: You know, now we're all in our homes, looking at all of our stuff every day. You should just dress the way that makes you feel happy. There's so much other stuff happening in the world. Why not be comfortable and wear clothes that you like?

SHAPIRO: So no such thing as a fashion faux pas anymore. Want to wear socks with your Birkenstocks? As long as you can't see them on Zoom, who's going to judge?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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