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'Oldest start-up on earth': Birkenstock's IPO filing is exactly as you'd expect

Birkenstock sandals are on display in the window of a store in Berlin.
Sean Gallup
/
Getty Images
Birkenstock sandals are on display in the window of a store in Berlin.

"Everything has to change, so that everything stays the way it is."

That's how the CEO of Birkenstock begins to explain why the nearly 250-year-old shoemaker is finally deciding to become a publicly traded company.

First-time filings to list on U.S. stock exchanges are typically vaults of monotonous financial data and haughty promises. But this is Birkenstock. It's not here to simply clog along.

"We see ourselves as the oldest start-up on earth," CEO Oliver Reichert writes to potential shareholders. "We are serving a primal need of all human beings. We are a footbed company selling the experience of walking as intended by nature."

The German sandal company is helping to kickstart the U.S. market for initial public offerings that has been sleepy for over a year. Reports suggest the listing on the New York Stock Exchange, expected in October, could value Birkenstock at more than $8 billion.

And sure, the company's prospectus offers all the financial details: Revenues up 19%, net profit down 45% for the six months ending in March compared to a year earlier.

But also foot trivia: "Every foot employs 26 bones, 33 muscles and over 100 tendons and ligaments in walking."

And name-dropping: Shout-outs to fashion deals with Dior, Manolo Blahnik, Rick Owens and Stüssy.

Parts for the production of Birkenstock shoes are seen at the company's facility in Germany in 2016.
Arno Burgi / DPA/AFP via Getty Images
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DPA/AFP via Getty Images
Parts for the production of Birkenstock shoes are seen at the company's facility in Germany in 2016.

Laced throughout is the Birkenstock lore: The seven generations of the German shoemaking Birkenstock family developing the anatomically shaped cork-and-latex insoles. The "global peace movement and hippies" wearing Birks apparently in "celebration of freedom" during the 1960s and 70s. The women of the 90s seeing the slippers as an escape from "painful high heels and other constricting footwear." And today's wearers choosing Birkenstocks "as a rejection of formal dress culture."

And did you know that the average Birkenstock shopper in the U.S. owns 3.6 pairs? (There's no mention whether the 0.6 is the left or right shoe.)

"Some say: 'Birkenstock is having a moment,'" CEO Reichert writes, perhaps in a nod to the sandal's notable cameo in the Barbie movie. "I always reply then 'this moment has lasted for 250 years, and it will continue to last.'"

The company is fresh from a major re-boot. In 2021, the company for the first time accepted private equity funds. Its majority owner is now L Catterton, a firm backed by French luxury conglomerate LVMH (that's Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton).

"We respect and honor our past, but we are not a mausoleum — Birkenstock is a living, breathing brand," Reichert writes in hopes of persuading (per-suede-ing?) investors that the company "remains empowered by a youthful energy level, with all the freshness and creative versatility of an inspired Silicon Valley start-up."

Birkenstock wants to trade under the ticker symbol "BIRK." But before it does, it wants you to remember: "Improper footwear can cause friction, pain, injury and poor posture, among other ailments."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
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