Sure, Birkenstocks have hippie cred, but now with fashion cred too, I had to investigate: are they as kind to the earth as their granola connotations would suggest? After all, we’ve all been marketed the bohemian free spirit lifestyle from companies whose malpractices suggest otherwise.
The answer, to my surprise: Yes.
Birkenstocks deserve their green cred. I mean, they don’t promote themselves as “eco-chic” or anything like that, and they’re not perfect – there are always ways to improve. But, for the most part, they’re pretty darn environmentally sensible.
For one, they last decades. The 230 year old company (established 1774!) doesn’t have planned obsolescence on its agenda, promoting ways to prolong the life of the sandals, creating a shoe that’s designed to be easily re-soled, and taking in old shoes to donate to charity. If the people who still hold on to their Birkenstocks from twenty years ago are proof, trendy as they are at the moment, these sandals are pretty much the antithesis of fast fashion.
Secondly, they’re made in Germany, which is a country with strict standards on labour regulations.
The shoes are also made of ecologically friendly materials: The classic footbed is made of natural latex and cork, two renewable and non-toxic materials. (The cork actually is a byproduct of Portugal’s wine industry). Soles are made from EVA, which is a much cleaner alternative to the traditionally used PVC.
They’re into recycling: unused leather scraps and other materials are repurposed – EVA for children’s playgrounds, sport fields and sound barriers along freeways. Heat from machinery is recovered to use for drying cork footbeds. And packaging is made from 90% recycled material.
This is one fashion trend that is so appealing I think because of it’s stark simplicity and humble roots. (I can hear the normcore sirens calling). While some may find the sudden interest in a clunky old shoe off-putting, perhaps there is something more to it. Maybe it’s a sign that we’re all craving a little bit more sensibility when it comes to the environment – rejecting the endless cycles of fashion to lean on something a little more sturdy, comfy, and comforting.