Birkenstocks have become even more wearable than ever since the pandemic-induced quarantine, when the remote workforce enthusiastically embraced the home office uniform: leisurewear. Still, the family-run business, founded by cobbler Johann Adam Birkenstock in 1774, is keeping one foot in the high fashion pool where previous collaborations with Proenza Schouler and Rick Owens have proved successful. For its most recent partnership, Birkenstock teamed up with the multidisciplinary design firm Toogood on a sculptural bed made of the same materials—cork, leather and canvas— as the German brand’s sandals three new styles for the iconic Arizona sandal, and a casual ready-to-wear collection in colors like stone, chalk, and the darker-toned flint. Birkenstock x Toogood is everything you’d imagine, a cohesive collection designed with one unifying purpose in mind: comfort.
In advance of today’s launch, Surface sat down with Toogood founder Faye Toogood to talk about the vision for the collab, her personal history with the classic sandal brand, and the Puffy Chair’s influence on her Birkenstock remix.
Why are Toogood and Birkenstock a good marriage?
Birkenstock fits in perfectly with Toogood because it is irrespective of gender, age, and any kind of cultural outlook. Birkenstock has brilliant craftsmanship that hasn’t changed. It’s a brand with consistency and a democratic outlook. Also, what I liked about their approach was that they said, “You can do anything you want, we just want to work with Toogood. We feel that we share the same values.”
How did the collaboration begin? What was your starting point?
They came to the studio and saw our design house, which is in East London. That’s where we create the materials, furniture, and clothing. They’d been looking at what we were doing and they really appreciated our approach and the things that matter to us: the democracy of what people wear and when they wear it. So we said, “Let’s make some shoes, but also let’s make a ready-to-wear collection.”
How did the bed come into the line-up?
By the end of the conversation, we also decided to design a bed after I learned that Birkenstock made this really incredible mattress. I wanted to make a really beautiful bed that has just as much attention as the footbed of the sandal. You spend 12 hours of your day standing on your feet and the other 12 hours lying on your back. Birkenstock is thinking about both
How does that approach apply to manufacturing both sandals and mattresses?
I came out of the conversation understanding what they could achieve in manufacturing terms. So we used the same materials, the cork, for example, is the base of the bed, while the headboard uses their levers. The craftsmanship is there throughout.
Designing clothing, shoes, and a mattress is no small feat. How do you integrate your design vision across different typologies of objects?
We concentrated on the idea of the shape and the pattern. We tend not to draw so much, we often go straight to mock-ups to work out the shape. I started working with bits of old canvas, cardboard, and sellotape to make these really basic sandals that looked almost like Roman sandals. They were really basic in their approach, but we quite quickly got to a shape a bit like the Puffy Chair I just launched with some padding and quilting. I took the paper mock-ups to Germany and developed them into a product. Once we had the language of the shoes, it became really clear how the ready-to-wear collection should respond.
Your take on Birkenstocks is different from previous collaborations. It somehow looks completely fresh and just like a Birkenstock sandal at the same time.
I decided that the footbed is off limits, no one’s allowed to touch the footbed. Previous collaborations were either recolored or changed the material, but I wanted to change the patterns, silhouette, and create a different shape. We took the quintessential designs—the Arizona and the Zurich—and we actually cut them. They are without hardware, and the contours, the shaping, and the geometry is different from the originals.
Did you run into any challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge was getting the puffy-padded quilted effect. It’s not something they’ve done before. They’re used to working with very hard-wearing, raw-edge, seamless materials. I wanted to make shoes out of canvas, so we had to investigate all the seaming. When I brought in the quilting, that was something that they hadn’t worked on before, so at certain points we reached the limits of manufacturing. There was nothing that wasn’t achieved in the end. I love looking at the original mock-ups and then the final pieces, you can see very little differences between the two.
Whether it’s a shoe or a bed, what makes good design?
I’m always looking for that sort of magic that makes your product not only relevant or functional or desirable, but something that people are completely drawn to. I feel that I’ve achieved that with the Roly-Poly chair, something that is in design museums around the world. It’s in lots of people’s homes all around the world. There’s something magical about that chair. You can’t always put your finger on it. It’s not about designing an ergonomic chair, it’s about designing and creating an object that people connect to in an emotional way that brings joy—something different in their life that they like to have around them.
I just launched a ceramics homewares collection. I’m working on that and then I’m getting a bit passionate about jewelry.