You may not have heard of the San Francisco-based footwear brand Allbirds or recognise its simple, unassuming shoes, but, having conquered the US, it is on a mission to change that.
The direct-to-consumer business launched just two years ago with one style of shoe and has been quickly, yet quietly, kick-starting a sustainable footwear revolution – one based on simplicity, comfort and sustainability.
In two years, it has sold more than one million pairs of shoes. It now counts a raft of famous names – including Barack Obama – as fans, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio is one of its investors.
Last month, it completed a $50m (￡39m) round of series C venture capital funding. The company is thought be valued at $1.4bn (￡1.09bn), although it will not disclose the actual amount.
Allbirds has now landed on UK shores with its first store outside of North America, which opened at 123 Long Acre in central London’s Covent Garden on 17 October.
“At Allbirds, we’re dedicated to making better things in a better way by using premium natural materials to create supremely comfortable and sustainable products,” co-founder Tim Brown tells Drapers. “We believe that you shouldn’t have to harm the environment to make a pair of shoes that look and feel great – or, really, anything else.”
As a former professional soccer player, Brown would regularly receive free footwear from sportswear companies. He noticed that most were “over-designed” and bore huge logos, garish colours and constantly changing details, driven by the demands of seasonal collections.
“I felt there was a real gap in the market for a shoe that was simple, used natural materials over synthetics, and actually prioritised comfort,” he says.
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After representing his native New Zealand in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Brown retired from sport to pursue Allbirds, then a “curiosity project”.
“I grew up in New Zealand, the land of 29 million sheep, so I’ve long been aware of wool’s incredible properties,” he explains. “It is moisture wicking, temperature regulating, and, most importantly, extremely soft. I wondered why it hadn’t really been used before in footwear, so I set out to try to develop a merino wool fabric that could stand up to the wear and tear shoes go through on a daily basis.”
The process was “extremely challenging” and took Brown and his Allbirds co-founder, engineer Joey Zwillinger, years of research and development. It resulted in a unique superfine merino wool fabric that is soft, itch free, durable and water resistant.
Allbirds took this and launched with one style of shoe. The Wool Runner is a simple, pared-back style for men and women. It retails at ￡95 and remains core to Allbirds’ offer.
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