The fall of 2023 might seem like a poor time for Birkenstock, a company known for its casual sandals, to go public. Two years of soaring inflation have dampened consumers’ willingness to splurge on clothes and shoes, while the post-Labor Day return to the office after the pandemic means many white-collar workers must give up on dressing like couch potatoes.
But maybe Birkenstock knows something we don’t. Indeed, the shoemaker’s securities filing for a high-profile initial public offering, made public this week, singles out one factor that will drive it forward: Feminism. It lists the “Breakthrough of Modern Feminism” as a “consumer megatrend” in its favor.
“The ongoing evolution and expansion of the role of women in society continues to drive meaningful shifts in their preferences in footwear and apparel,” the Germany-based company wrote in a letter to prospective investors.
“While trends in fashion come and go, we believe women’s increasing preference for functional apparel and footwear has and will prove secular in nature,” the company wrote. Meaning—like Barbie’s title character in this summer’s blockbuster film—once women throw out their painful, impractical heels, there’s no going back.
“As a brand that has long stood for functionality, we believe this ongoing tailwind will continue to drive relevance and growth,” the company wrote.
It may have a point: Not only has office wear has become more casual over the decades, the pandemic supercharged that trend. Sneakers and jeans—a decade ago only common in tech and the most creative fields—are now routine in many offices. The youngest workers, meanwhile, are pushing the boundaries even further with crop tops, cut-off pants, and even goth-inspired outfits.
“Since everyone’s been returning to work, especially women, they’ve moved away from wearing uncomfortable shoes,” said Abigail Gilmartin, a retail analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence specializing in footwear.
“We’re seeing people wearing sneakers with fancy outfits, they’re wearing sandals more, they’re wearing clogs,” she added.
Potential value: $8.7 billion
Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that Birkenstock could fetch a valuation in its IPO of between $7 and $8.7 billion—three times the market capitalization of fashion shoemaker Steve Madden and significantly higher than competitor Crocs’ $5.4 billion cap. “The casual footwear market is growing, and I don’t think Birkenstock needs to take share from anyone, they can just grow with it,” Gilmartin said.
Gilmartin pointed to this summer’s blockbuster Barbie film as proof of Birkenstocks’ cultural relevance. In a critical scene in the movie, the title character has to choose between living a fantasy and knowing the truth about the world, symbolized by a choice between a pink high-heeled shoe or a Birkenstock. (Sales of Birkenstocks jumped after the film’s release, Footwear News reported.)
The company brought in $687 million in revenue in the first half of this year, a 19% jump from the six-month period one year prior. In fiscal year 2022, Birkenstock says, it sold 30 million pairs of shoes.
So far in 2023, the most popular shoe styles have been sneakers or flats, according to shopping platform Lyst. Searches for high-heeled shoes are well below their levels in 2019, CNN reported last month in a story that asked, “Have we said goodbye to high heels?”
To be sure, Birkenstock has more than cultural shifts on its side: Gilmartin pointed out that the shoemaker is immensely profitable, with a 35% margin, excluding certain expenses, and a vertically integrated manufacturing facility that allows it tight quality control. And its customers tend to be superfans: Birkenstock wrote that its typical shopper owns 3.6 pairs of shoes.
Gilmartin herself falls into that camp: “My first pair I bought in the pandemic, and then I got three more,” she said.