Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army during World War II. While on leave in 1945, he injured his ankle skiing in the Bavarian Alps. He found that his standard-issue army boots were too uncomfortable on his injured foot. So, while recuperating, he designed improvements to the boots, using soft leather, and air-padded soles.
When the war ended in 1945, some German people looted valuables from their own devastated cities, Märtens took leather from a cobbler’s shop. With that leather he made himself a pair of boots with air-cushioned soles.
Märtens didn’t have much luck selling his shoes until he met up with an old university friend, Dr. Herbert Funck, in Munich in 1947. Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two went into business that year in Seeshaupt, Germany, using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields.
The comfortable and durable soles were a big hit with housewives, with 80% of sales in the first decade going to women over the age of 40.
Sales had grown so much by 1952 that they opened a factory in Munich.
In 1959, the company had grown large enough that Märtens and Funck looked at marketing the footwear internationally. Almost immediately, British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group Ltd. bought patent rights to manufacture the shoes in the United Kingdom. Griggs anglicized the name, slightly re-shaped the heel to make them fit better, added the trademark yellow stitching, and trademarked the soles as AirWair.