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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Sandal Wars

In the 1960s Birkenstocks were as ubiquitous as love beads, tie-dyed T shirts and VW camper vans . Decades later, they became a must for all celebrities and were transformed into pure urban chic. Now the humble German sandal is the focus of a branding feud to rival the epic battles between Coca-Cola and Pepsi . Susanne Birkenstock, the ex-wife of Christian Birkenstock is about to release her new range of designer sandal wear with specially contoured soles to massage the foot, improve posture and reduce cellulite. The range is called Beautystep . Meantime the Birkenstock are re-issuing the Noppy-flex range a 70s classic sellers which the company makes similarly ambitious set of health claims. But do the products both carry the Birkenstock label, I hear you bay. Well after a bitter divorce in 2004 and a lawsuit over the use of the Birkenstock name, Ms Birkenstock can still use her married name to sell her shoes on the condition the name is printed at a distance from the Beautystep logo, and at one-10th the size. Not really all that surprising both rival shoes appear to look similar with chunky soles and thick leather straps although each company remains adamant their product is scientifically researched and unique. Before her divorce, the glamorous Susanne Birkenstock was credited with turning around the fortunes with her fashionable designs. The shoe company was founded in 1774. Most people believe the Birkenstock name is so well established that it is unlikely to be threatened by the new competitor, and the market can probably support both. Coming from the pedigree stable Ms Birkenstock’s Beautystep is likely however to go straight to the A-list appealing to the fashionista. Ms Birkenstock’s Beautystep is already proving successful in Germany and Austria, where 30,000 pairs were sold in the first three months. The ‘walking on sand” concept is also used by Masai Sandals who have established themselves recently in the leisure sandal market and will provide tough competion however I believe by the end of the Spring/Summer seasons the real champions for 2006 will be Crocs .

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