The shoe craze “ugly but comfortable” is nothing new. In recent years, the famous German brand Birkenstock founded 250 years ago, a time symbol of unattractive orthopedic pumps, has become a summer staple, imitated by countless shoe brands, ever more daring in models and colors offered. But this craze has reached a new level with the recent global success of the film Barbie, and especially in China, where spectators flock to these leather sandals.
It all started with a scene. At the start of the film, the doll embodied by Margot Robbie comes up against a dilemma as difficult as that of Neo in Matrix, facing the blue and red pills: stay in your ideal and imaginary world and keep your high heels, or else face the “real world”. For this, she must put on hideous brown leather sandals, hated by some for their rustic aesthetics, acclaimed by others for their unequaled comfort. The final scene (warning, spoiler) also shows Barbie’s feet the same pair, pink this time. With two nods as subtle as the film’s marketing campaign that preceded its theatrical release, the sandal brand and its imitators couldn’t have hoped for a better publicity stunt for their products.
In China, the mules have been emulated on social networks, with some Internet users celebrating a release of the toes. “Please give me a pair of Birkenstock shoes. After wearing high heels for an entire afternoon, my toes swelled up like mosquito bites, and that’s when I had this realization.” implored a surfer noticed by the daily South China Morning Postbased in Hong Kong. “Birkenstock shoes are ugly? They are comfortable, versatile and easy to wear. Only those who have worn them know that.” says another convert who became a preacher. The craze is such that some distributors complain of being close to out of stock, notes the Chinese media Huxiu.
The Chinese had already been seduced by another marker of the shoe “ugly but comfortable”, namely the Crocs and their imitations, these perforated plastic clogs, very useful for taking out the trash before being abandoned on the landing. Since the film’s release on July 19, they have been seen with unusual frequency in Chinese subways, note Chinese social networks. This passion for plastic clogs is accompanied by a race for accessories to customize them. “Without decoration, perforated shoes are like decrepit houses. They can be exquisitely adorned with shoe flowers,” remarked an online observer on social network Xiaohongshu. The platform already has more than 40,000 posts relating to the keyword “flower shoes”, which has become a way for young girls to show their creativity and promote social interaction, according to the South China Morning Post.
If Barbie gave a boost to the shoes with dubious aesthetics, note all the same that the shoes comfortable benefit from a craze that goes beyond the mere release of the film, and which surfs on a fashionable millennial style. Crocs, driven in particular by collaborations with celebrities like Justin Bieber, saw its profits take off by 60% in 2022, and is aiming for a turnover of 6 billion dollars in 2026. The “Birks” are not left out. In 2019, 25 million pairs, largely handmade in several factories in Europe, were distributed around the world, for a turnover of 720 million euros. Such success that the company whetted the appetite of Bernard Arnault, who swallowed it up in his LVMH group in February 2021. Barbie’s feet only accelerated the trend for ugly tatanes. Just ten days after the film’s release, Bloomberg announced that Birkenstock was slated to go public in September, for more than $6 billion.