Why Americans Are Obsessed With These Ugly Sandals
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,581,977 (+0.10%)       Melbourne $970,512 (+0.23%)       Brisbane $885,023 (+0.03%)       Adelaide $813,016 (+0.20%)       Perth $760,003 (-0.11%)       Hobart $733,438 (-1.28%)       Darwin $643,022 (-0.79%)       Canberra $970,902 (+1.87%)       National $1,000,350 (+0.23%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $721,725 (+0.37%)       Melbourne $488,237 (-0.76%)       Brisbane $495,283 (+1.37%)       Adelaide $404,022 (-2.77%)       Perth $405,420 (-0.69%)       Hobart $498,278 (-1.60%)       Darwin $339,700 (-0.58%)       Canberra $480,910 (-0.04%)       National $502,695 (-0.26%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,626 (-230)       Melbourne 15,220 (+56)       Brisbane 8,417 (-24)       Adelaide 2,720 (-9)       Perth 6,897 (+56)       Hobart 1,234 (+5)       Darwin 281 (+5)       Canberra 1,079 (-30)       National 46,474 (-171)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,563 (-253)       Melbourne 8,007 (-12)       Brisbane 1,824 (-34)       Adelaide 493 (-16)       Perth 1,902 (-1)       Hobart 176 (+4)       Darwin 388 (-7)       Canberra 858 (+2)       National 22,211 (-317)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $775 (-$5)       Melbourne $570 ($0)       Brisbane $600 ($0)       Adelaide $580 (+$10)       Perth $625 (-$5)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $690 (-$10)       Canberra $680 ($0)       National $642 (-$2)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $730 ($0)       Melbourne $550 ($0)       Brisbane $625 ($0)       Adelaide $460 (+$10)       Perth $580 (+$5)       Hobart $460 (+$10)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $560 (-$5)       National $576 (+$2)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,654 (+231)       Melbourne 5,764 (+128)       Brisbane 4,271 (-9)       Adelaide 1,259 (+101)       Perth 1,944 (+50)       Hobart 337 (-36)       Darwin 168 (+19)       Canberra 647 (+18)       National 20,044 (+502)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 9,121 (+505)       Melbourne 6,022 (+34)       Brisbane 2,066 (+18)       Adelaide 366 (+1)       Perth 600 (-5)       Hobart 138 (-17)       Darwin 306 (+12)       Canberra 736 (+20)       National 19,355 (+568)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 2.55% (↓)       Melbourne 3.05% (↓)       Brisbane 3.53% (↓)     Adelaide 3.71% (↑)        Perth 4.28% (↓)     Hobart 3.90% (↑)        Darwin 5.58% (↓)       Canberra 3.64% (↓)       National 3.34% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.26% (↓)     Melbourne 5.86% (↑)        Brisbane 6.56% (↓)     Adelaide 5.92% (↑)      Perth 7.44% (↑)      Hobart 4.80% (↑)      Darwin 8.42% (↑)        Canberra 6.06% (↓)     National 5.96% (↑)             HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.7% (↑)      Melbourne 0.8% (↑)      Brisbane 0.4% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 1.2% (↑)      Hobart 0.6% (↑)      Darwin 1.1% (↑)      Canberra 0.7% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.4% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.3% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 1.5% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.3% (↑)      National 0.9% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 28.0 (↑)      Melbourne 29.2 (↑)        Brisbane 30.6 (↓)       Adelaide 23.8 (↓)     Perth 34.2 (↑)      Hobart 29.4 (↑)      Darwin 39.9 (↑)      Canberra 28.2 (↑)      National 30.4 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND       Sydney 29.4 (↑)      Melbourne 29.6 (↑)        Brisbane 30.3 (↓)       Adelaide 22.5 (↓)       Perth 39.2 (↓)     Hobart 26.1 (↑)        Darwin 36.1 (↓)     Canberra 34.4 (↑)        National 31.0 (↓)           
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Why Americans Are Obsessed With These Ugly Sandals

Margot Fraser’s feet hurt. Then she found Birkenstocks and brought them to the U.S. Now the company is worth billions of dollars.

Sun, Oct 15, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 6 min

One of the iconic shots of the year’s biggest movie was Margot Robbie’s Barbie character in Birkenstocks.

She was only wearing them because of Margot Fraser.

This woman responsible for bringing the supremely comfy, seductively ugly German footwear to the U.S. was one of the most improbable business figures of her time.

She was an accidental entrepreneur who started distributing Birkenstocks from her California home in the 1960s, when nobody knew what they were or how orthopaedic sandals cured foot pain. The only places that would carry them were health-food stores, where each pair might as well have come with a jar of granola. She was a dressmaker with no clue about shoes, much less crunchy ones, but she grew the company from zero to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. She would even come to be known as Mrs. Birkenstock.

The sandals that she introduced to Americans have become more popular and the business much bigger than Fraser could have predicted. This week, when Birkenstock went public, the company was valued at $8.6 billion.

It’s fitting that Birkenstock’s initial public offering comes on the heels of a summer ruled by the spending power of women because this is a company whose U.S. business has always been built around their needs.

That’s in large part because of Margot Fraser, the most important woman in the company’s history. She paid attention to women—and it paid off. They were her first customers. They were also her best customers. Birkenstock’s financial documents credit “the breakthrough of modern feminism” as a key driver of its business, and the company’s private-equity backers cite the products’ appeal to women as one of the reasons they invested. In fact, Birkenstock says 72% of its customers are female.

It’s a remarkably high number for a company that explicitly markets its products as unisex. Steve Jobs wore them. Sneaker geeks want them. They were designed by Karl Birkenstock, a son of Carl and grandson of Konrad, descendants of the man who started the family’s tradition of shoemaking 249 years ago. More recently, the private-equity firm and family office of Bernard Arnault, the billionaire chief executive of LVMH’s luxury empire, bought a controlling stake and took the company public.

Anyone can now own stock in BIRK because of its connection to one of the world’s richest men, but Birkenstock never would have been in this position without a pioneering woman.

“It is because of Margot and the foundation she built that the brand is enjoying the success that it is today,” the president of the company’s American division said when she died in 2017.

She was the first to admit that she was an unlikely footwear executive and had to learn how to run the business one step at a time.

“I didn’t know a thing about shoes,” she once said. “What I did know was that my feet were always hurting.”

But that was all she needed to know. She figured that millions of women across the country must have feet that were always hurting, too.

Fraser had a keen sense of the American consumer for someone who grew up in war-torn Germany. The principal of her elementary school in the 1930s taught her that “girls were capable of anything and should follow their dreams,” but not everyone in her life agreed. “My mother thought that was all ridiculous feminist stuff,” Fraser wrote in a book offering business advice. Her father wasn’t exactly Betty Friedan, either. When she told him she wanted to travel the world for business and show people that “not all Germans were bad,” he responded: “My dear, you could never do that as a woman.”

She went to dressmaking school and moved to the countryside to make clothing for farmers, who paid her in eggs and butter. It was the teenager’s first taste of entrepreneurship. When she couldn’t see a future in Germany after World War II, she decided to leave home in pursuit of her childhood dream, and she boarded a trans-Atlantic ship with $25 in her pocket.

But it was only when Fraser returned as a tourist nearly 15 years later that she discovered the shoes that would rescue her feet and transform her life.

She was living in the U.S. when she took a spa trip back to Germany in 1966 and came across “sandals that weren’t pretty to look at.” But after years of trying anything to fix her aching feet—even standing on a phone book and gripping it with her toes—she tried on her first Birkenstocks.

She was pain-free within months.

Fraser realised that her feet were always hurting because of her painful footwear. No amount of standing on phone books would have made a difference for women in constrictive heels with pointed toes. What did make the difference for Fraser were these sandals made with leather, cork and a footbed the Birkenstock men invented. They were following in the footsteps of Johannes Birkenstock, which date back to 1774, when the cobbler was mentioned in the church records of a village near Frankfurt. The company’s first sandals were released in 1963, not long before Fraser slipped them on.

They were so comfortable that she didn’t care if they were ugly. Birkenstocks provided value because they solved a problem. They were basically Hokas for hippies.

Fraser took the sandals back to the U.S. and wrote to the Birkenstock family asking if she could sell them to Americans. They said yes to the dressmaker. At first, it seemed unwise. The owners of local shoe stores wouldn’t talk to her, and doctors treated her like a threat to the podiatry business.

She was desperate when a friend mentioned that a group called the Health Food Association was hosting a national convention nearby, which is how she found herself in a San Francisco hotel pitching sandals to people who sold lentils.

She needed to find people who didn’t mind how their shoes looked. As it turns out, they were the kind of people who owned health-food stores. Because they spent all day on their feet, they chose function over fashion. Fraser knew there would be a market for Birkenstocks when she spotted a woman at the convention shuffling around in nylons while carrying shoes that she couldn’t wear.

“The woman tried on a pair,” she wrote, “and bought them despite her husband’s protests.”

Once she had a foothold, Fraser began working out of her Bay Area home in 1967, calling her distribution company Birkenstock Footprint Sandals. She later renamed it Birkenstock USA.

She couldn’t have picked a better time or place for Birkenstocks to come plodding into the U.S. They would have crossed the ocean eventually, but the sandals became a symbol of rebellion because they landed in the heart of the counterculture, when and where people were allergic to the mainstream and willing to wear their antiestablishment values on their feet. “It was this perfect moment,” said Andrea Schneider-Braunberger, the curator of Birkenstock’s historical archives. “The culture was ready for such modern, convention-breaking shoes.”

Fraser worked closely with the Birkenstock family and shared their complete obsession with Birkenstocks. They made the shoes and decisions for the entire company based on her feedback.

The name of the funny-looking sandal that caught her eye was the “Original Birkenstock-Footbed sandal,” but Fraser told her German partners that American women were never going to buy something called “Original Birkenstock-Footbed sandal.” They took her marketing advice and branded the single-strapped sandal the “Madrid.” It remains one of the company’s top sellers.

It took six years for Fraser to venture beyond health-food stores and move into actual footwear stores. But that timing also turned out to be advantageous. By then, people were ready to buy Birkenstocks, and she was better at selling them.

She knew they intrigued baby boomers who didn’t want to look like their mothers and fathers. As it happens, their children don’t mind looking like them. Now, boomers and millennials make up almost the exact same percentage of Birkenstock’s consumers, and the company’s Arizona sandals and Boston clogs can be found in high schools and retirement homes.

The business is also barely recognisable from when she sold Birkenstock USA to her employees and retired in 2002. It was later folded into the German parent company, which is run by Oliver Reichert, the first person outside the Birkenstock family to be the CEO. Arnault’s L Catterton invested in 2021 with eyes on this week’s IPO.

Birkenstock has expanded into sneakers, boots and sandals in wool, shearling and waterproof material. Its proudly frumpy sandals meant to free women from the norms of fashion have become posh enough for celebrities, models and collaborations with Manolo Blahnik. The people who once turned up their noses at them now put their feet in them. And the company’s dominant market is the U.S.

None of that would have been possible without Margot Fraser.

Neither would the final scene in “Barbie.”

To sell more sandals to more Americans, she was always begging her partners for more colours, so Fraser would have been delighted to see what’s on the feet of another woman named Margot.

She’s wearing a pair of pink Birkenstocks.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Couples find that lab-grown diamonds make it cheaper to get engaged or upgrade to a bigger ring. But there are rocky moments.

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Wedding planner Sterling Boulet has some advice for brides-to-be regarding lab-grown diamonds, which cost a fraction of the natural ones.

“If you’re trying to get your man to propose, they’ll propose faster if you offer this as an option,” says Boulet, of Raleigh, N.C. Recently, she adds, a friend’s fiancé “thanked me the next three times I saw him” for telling him about the cheaper lab-made option.

Man-made diamonds are catching on, despite some lingering stigma. This year was the first time that sales of lab-made and natural mined loose diamonds, primarily used as center stones in engagement rings, were split evenly, according to data from Tenoris, a jewellery and diamond trend-analytics company.

The rise of lab-made stones, however, is bringing up quirks alongside the perks. Now that blingier engagement rings—above two or three carats—are more affordable, more people are dealing with the peculiarities of wearing rather large rocks.

An engagement ring made with a lab-grown diamond at Ada Diamonds in New York City. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Esther Hare, a 5-foot-11-inch former triathlete, sought out a 4.5-carat lab-made oval-shaped diamond to fit her larger hands as a part of her vow renewal in Hawaii last year. It was a far cry from the half-carat ring her husband proposed with more than 25 years ago and the 1.5-carat upgrade they purchased 10 years ago. Hare, 50, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and works in high tech, chose a $40,000 lab-made diamond because “it’s nuts” to have to spend $100,000 on a natural stone. “It had to be big—that was my vision,” she says.

But the size of the ring has made it less practical at times. She doesn’t wear it for athletic training and swaps in her wedding band instead. And she is careful to leave it at home when traveling. “A lot of times I won’t take it on vacation because it’s just a monster,” she says.

The average retail price for a one-carat lab-made loose diamond decreased to $1,426 this year from $3,039 in 2020, according to the Tenoris data. Similar-sized loose natural diamonds cost $5,426 this year, compared with $4,943 in 2020.

Lab-made diamonds have essentially the same chemical makeup as natural ones, and look the same, unless viewed through sophisticated equipment that gauges the characteristics of emitted light.

At Ritani, an online jewellery retailer, lab-made diamond sales make up about 70% of the diamonds sold, up from roughly 30% two years ago, says Juliet Gomes, head of customer service at the company, based in White Plains, N.Y.

Ritani sometimes records videos of the lab-diamonds pinging when exposed to a “diamond tester,” a tool that judges authenticity, to show customers that the man-made rocks behave the same as natural ones. We definitely have some deep conversations with them,” Gomes says.

Not all gem dealers are rolling with these stones.

Philadelphia jeweller Steven Singer only stocks the natural stuff in his store and is planning a February campaign to give about 1,000 one-carat lab-made diamonds away free to prove they are “worthless.” Anyone can sign up online and get one in the mail; even shipping is free. “I’m not selling Frankensteins that were built in a lab,” Singer says.

Some brides are turned off by the larger bling now allowed by the lower prices.When her now-husband proposed with a two-carat lab-grown engagement ring, Tiffany Buchert, 40, was excited about the prospect of marriage—but not about the size of the diamond, which she says struck her as “costume jewellery-ish.”

“I said yes in the moment, of course, I didn’t want it to be weird,” says the physician assistant from West Chester, Pa.

But within weeks, she says, she fessed up, telling her fiancé: “I think I hate this ring.”

The couple returned it and then bought a one-carat natural diamond for more than double the price.

Couples find that lab-grown diamonds have made it more affordable to get engaged. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When Boulet, the wedding planner in Raleigh, got engaged herself, she was over the moon when her fiancé proposed with a 2.3 carat lab-made diamond ring. “It’s very shiny, we were almost worried it was too shiny and was going to look fake,” she says.

It doesn’t, which presents another issue—looking like someone who really shelled out for jewellery. Boulet will occasionally volunteer that her diamond ring came from a lab.

“I don’t want people to think I’m putting on airs, or trying to be flashier than I am,” she says.

For Daniel Teoh, a 36-year-old software engineer outside of Detroit, buying a cheaper lab-made diamond for his fiancée meant extra room in his $30,000 ring budget.

Instead of a bigger ring, he got her something they could both enjoy. During a walk while on an annual ski trip to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Teoh popped the question and handed his now-wife a handmade wooden box that included a 2.5-carat lab-made diamond ring—and a car key.

She put on the ring, celebrated with both of their sisters and a friend, who was the unofficial photographer of the happy event, and then they drove back to the house. There, she saw a 1965 Mustang GT coupe in Wimbledon white with red stripes and a bow on top.

Looking back, Teoh says, it was still the diamond that made the big first impression.

“It wasn’t until like 15 minutes later she was like ‘so, what’s with this key?’” he adds.


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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