Remembering Margot Fraser, Birkenstock USA Founder
—Information parsed from Footwear News and Birkenstock USA press release—
On April 24th, 2017, Birkenstock USA announced the recent passing of Margot Fraser, the woman responsible for bringing Birkenstock products to the U.S. and for building the brand over its first 40 years on the market.
Margot Fraser was a footwear industry visionary. Long before Birkenstock became the comfort and lifestyle staple it is today, she saw the brand’s “odd looking shoes’” potential in the American market.
Fraser, a former dress maker, discovered Birkenstock on a spa trip to Germany in 1966. In an interview with Footwear Plus (March 1998), she recalled how a fitness instructor suggested she try the sandals to soothe her chronic foot pain. Armed with zero formal business training nor a line of credit, Fraser let her passion guide her in introducing America to Birkenstock.
Fraser launched Birkenstock direct-to-consumer, specifically, out of her home in Santa Cruz, CA. Her initial attempts at wholesale distribution were met with stiff resistance. But Fraser persisted and recalled that her turning point came in 1967 when she brought some sandals to a health food convention in San Francisco, where she discovered like-minded men and women who cared about the health of their bodies and recognized the value of function over fashion. Thanks to Fraser’s vision and the burgeoning Hippie movement, Birkenstock was soon on its way to becoming a household name in the states. The brand exploded in popularity.
“It is not an overstatement to say that Margot’s pioneering efforts paved the way for European comfort brands here in the U.S.,” says David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas. “It is because of Margot and the foundation she built that the brand is enjoying the success that it is today. And it is because of Margot that shoes that are good for you have a place in so many stores and closets across the country.”