The brand behind fashion’s original ugly shoe could soon have an owner with luxury links.
Birkenstock is now reportedly an acquisition target for L Catterton, the private equity firm whose shareholders include LVMH and Groupe Arnault, the family holding company of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault.
On Sunday, Bloomberg reported the firm was pulling ahead of buyout firm CVC Capital Partners in a race to buy the family-owned German footwear company, which could be valued at around $5 billion, according to the business outlet. On Monday, WWD reported the talks had become exclusive and that LVMH itself was considering a small investment.
CVC and LVMH declined to comment, while L Catterton and Birkenstock did not respond to a request for comment.
The high-fashion interest in the centuries-old brand reflects a wider shake-up in the market and long-term shifts in the way people dress. The pandemic has accelerated the broader trend of casualisation in fashion, cementing comfort and convenience as the cornerstone of wardrobes around the globe.
It’s a trend that’s particularly apparent in footwear. Global shoe sales declined almost 20 percent to $286 billion last year, according to Euromonitor International. The market is expected to return to growth this year, but sales are projected to remain far below 2019 levels. However, comfort-driven brands are continuing to perform.
Crocs’ stock is trading at an all-time high as the company expects record revenues of $1.4 billion for 2020. The share price of Deckers, parent company to Tevas and Uggs, has more than doubled over the past two years. Last month, Dr. Martens’ IPO valued the business at £3.7 billion ($5 billion), over 10 times the £300 million former owner Permira Holdings paid for the company when it acquired it in 2014. The share price is currently up 12 percent.
“The pandemic has polarised the footwear space,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “Fashion footwear has performed very badly … Comfortable and athletic footwear have performed very well.”
The pandemic has polarised the footwear space.
Within the current uncertain retail context, Birkenstock is particularly interesting because of its longevity. The brand, which was founded in 1774 by German cobbler Johann Adam Birkenstock, emerged on the fashion scene in the 1960s as part of the style uniform for hippies. Though the company’s brand of orthopaedic style seems designed for current fashion trends, it’s been steadily building credibility and has attracted a dedicated following for decades. That kind of brand power is extremely rare.
Birkenstock’s sales hit €722 million ($870 million) in the financial year ending September 2019, up 11 percent from the year previous, according to Bloomberg. This translates to almost 24 million pairs of shoes sold, and the brand’s appeal has remained strong throughout the pandemic.
In the second quarter of 2020, when Covid-19 first swept across the globe, Birkenstock’s Arizona sandals were the world’s hottest shoes according to Lyst, a global fashion shopping platform that analyses social media, e-commerce sales and internet search data. Searches for the sandal spiked 225 percent year-on-year in the quarter. Meanwhile, the brand’s closed-toe Boston clogs proved a hit during the winter months among both men and women. The shearling-lined version of the clog was the second-hottest women’s product of the fourth quarter, according to Lyst.
Overall, the number of Birkenstocks selling out online in the US and UK has increased 43 percent year-on-year over the past six months, according to data analytics firm Edited.
“The base of success is a good product, which is both durable and comfortable to wear,” said GlobalData’s Saunders. “The brand is also authentic and has a bit of an unassuming and unfussy retro vibe, which makes it cool.”
The brand…has a bit of an unassuming and unfussy retro vibe.
The brand’s first high fashion moment came in the 1990s when Corinne Day shot Kate Moss wearing a pair for the cover of The Face magazine. Shortly afterwards, Marc Jacobs chose Birkenstocks as the sandals for his Perry Ellis grunge collection fashion show. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Sienna Miller continued to champion the brand in the naughts. In 2013, Phoebe Philo sent mink-lined versions of the it-sandals down the runway at Celine.
Since then, Birkenstock has rolled out collaborations with a number of high fashion names, from Proenza Schouler to Rick Owens to Valentino, and gained popularity among a young demographic through social media trends like the VSCO-girl movement. Luxury brands, from Givenchy to Isabel Marant, have rolled out their own iterations of Birkenstock’s key styles.
New ownership could help Birkenstock scale in international markets, especially in the US and in Asia, though there’s room to grow in Europe too. The brand holds a 0.2 percent share of the footwear market in the UK and a 1.6 percent share in its home market of Germany, according to Euromonitor International.
The company’s focus on a core style and suite of products with established sales traction is also attractive in the current uncertain economic environment. Footwear, in general, has a greater chance at building a loyal customer base than apparel: shoes tend to get worn out faster, requiring swifter repeat purchases, and shoppers are also more likely to buy the same shoe, or a similar style, over again, something they’d be less inclined to do with a dress or a jacket.
“Whether it’s Vans, whether it’s Nike, or whether it’s Jimmy Choo, footwear inspires a sense of loyalty in their customers that is otherwise lacking in a T-shirt or a pair of jeans,” said Simeon Siegel, senior analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “No large company has been built off of a singular T-shirt. Whereas, many large companies have been built off of a single footwear style.”
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