"PRESERVING THE NATURAL FOOT HEALTH IS THE CORE OF EVERYTHING WE DO AT BIRKENSTOCK"
- Cansu Elman
INTERVIEW WITH CANSU ELMAN
Cansu Elman has a Master’s in human technology in sports and medicine and has always been fascinated by the human body and how it works. Cansu Elman has been with BIRKENSTOCK since 2018 and, as Head of Innovation & Orthopedics, manages a team of ten. Together, they ensure that all BIRKENSTOCK models effuse the company’s product philosophy.
Ms. Elman, footwear has been produced under the name BIRKENSTOCK for close to 250 years. What does the Head of Innovation at a lifestyle brand with such a long history focus on?
Me and my team first and foremost handle all of the company’s new developments as well as further development of the existing models. Our core segment is orthopedics, the key element of the BIRKENSTOCK footbed. It is therefore important that we ensure that all the new products meet BIRKENSTOCK’s orthopedic and biomechanical standards: Does the product have orthopedic added value, an actual function above and beyond its aesthetic component? Does it support BIRKENSTOCK’s philosophy of “Naturgewolltes Gehen,” a natural gait? And, of course, is it in keeping with our heritage and our brand? Once all the attributes of this filter have been complied with, we know we’re on the right track and are working on a product that will advance us.
There are probably few people who have as thorough an understanding of feet as you. From the perspective of an expert, what makes our feet, which we tend to take for granted, so special?
This may sound surprising to some, but the human foot is one of evolution’s greatest achievements. Our feet bear our body load all day long – not only when we are stationary, but also and above all when we are on the move. For this to work, nature created a fascinating construction consisting of multiple arch structures which are held together by numerous ligaments and tendons – our feet. They enable us to cope with a lot of strain in dynamic scenarios, like carrying heavy loads, running fast, or maintaining our balance. But for this to work permanently and painlessly and for the motion sequences intended by nature to be executed harmoniously, the arch structures of the foot need to be underlaid. This occurs, for example, when feet walk on a surface which naturally yields. If the foot walks on a hard surface which does not yield, the arch – the bridge-like structure that stabilizes our feet – is pushed down under the weight of the body and collapses, and this can lead to lasting damage and foot conditions.
"FEET ARE OUR FOUNDATION. IF THEY’RE NOT WELL IT WILL AFFECT OUR WHOLE BODY."
- Cansu Elman
How did BIRKENSTOCK come to develop this profound passion for the health of our feet?
Foot health has always been at the heart of the BIRKENSTOCK product philosophy and has been continuously further developed over the centuries by the various members of the Birkenstock family, the majority of which really were passionate orthopedic shoemakers. Konrad Birkenstock’s invention of the footbed in 1902 was fundamental to BIRKENSTOCK – industrialization led to a shift in the world of work, with more and more people working on unyielding floors in factories rather than working in the fields on soft ground. The footwear at the time wasn’t designed for this and this brought many foot conditions to the fore. Konrad Birkenstock was running an orthopedic shoemaking business in Frankfurt am Main at the time. It was here that he developed what was a revolutionary innovation for foot health back then – the Blue Footbed, an insole with a design that naturally underlays and supports the arch of the foot.
Can you explain how the Blue Footbed and, in general, BIRKENSTOCK shoes can support the health of our feet?
Our feet are our foundations. If our feet aren’t healthy, this will have an impact on the entire body. Consider it like this: if the ground floor of a building is poorly constructed, the entire building’s statics are influenced all the way up to the top floor, perhaps even causing it to collapse. If we transpose this image to the human body, it means foot problems will stretch via the ankles to the knees, hips, spine, and back. Nature constructed our feet for us to be able to walk optimally on natural, yielding surfaces where the arch of the foot can dig into the soft ground so that its natural shape is underlaid. This is what we at BIRKENSTOCK mean by “Naturgewolltes Gehen,” in other words a natural gait. With our products, all of which are based on the Blue Footbed, we seek to simulate the form of walking intended by nature. We do not correct anything or interfere with the foot’s motion sequences and are guided solely by the natural shape of the foot. A good illustration of this principle is the image of a footprint in the sand – the whole of the foot is underlaid by sand, every arch is optimally supported, and the full weight of the body is distributed evenly, as intended by nature. The anatomy of our BIRKENSTOCK footbed reflects a footprint in the sand and naturally underlays the foot.
What exactly is the principle of “Naturgewolltes Gehen” all about?
The term was coined by Carl Birkenstock, who described it in detail in an orthopedics reference book published in 1947. The principle of a “natural gait” is essentially made up of five fundamental elements that need to be guaranteed if foot health is to be promoted: even distribution of body weight across the feet, support for the foot’s natural anatomy, the ability to grip with one’s toes, activation of the foot muscles, and maintenance of the foot’s arch structure. To this day, this principle and the Blue Footbed together represent the essence of the BIRKENSTOCK product philosophy.
Our feet are subjected to all kinds of strains in our daily lives. So how should we ideally be walking in order to do our feet some good?
Simply walk barefoot. Ideally, on a variety of surfaces that yield – grass, sand, gravel, and forest floors are ideal and stimulate the feet naturally. It is also OK for this to feel a little uncomfortable at first as our feet need to be challenged, too – without overdoing it. Modern-day society forces feet into shoes that our feet weren’t designed for. It’s therefore especially important that we use our feet the way nature intended as often as possible.