Business

Allbirds Hooked You On Wool Shoes. Next, Shoes Made from Trees

Allbirds, the Silicon Valley startup behind a wildly popular wool sneaker, is pivoting from sheep to trees.

The venture-capital darling is unveiling two new models Thursday made with the fibers of eucalyptus trees, effectively doubling its product line. One of its new kicks will be a flora version of its seminal, minimalist running shoe.

“We’ve been the leaders, you could argue, in creating a new class of footwear,” said co-founder Tim Brown of the company’s novel use of wool. “And at first glance, shoes made out of trees don’t make a lot of sense, either.”

Allbirds said eucalyptus will require only 5 percent of the resources that go into a traditional shoe made of leather, plastic, rubber or some combination thereof. And while there’s a lot to like about wool shoes, from a warm, fuzzy fit to anti-microbial properties, they still don’t pair overly well with summer or rain. Allbirds is hoping its eucalyptus line, which wicks away sweat, will strip some of the seasonality out of its business and expand sales in America’s southern climes, as well as in markets such as Australia.

Allbirds Hooked You On Wool Shoes. Next, Shoes Made from Trees

Allbirds newest offering, dubbed The Skipper, takes design cues from a traditional boat shoe.

Source: Allbirds

Co-founder Joey Zwillinger, a biotech engineer, said the company has been developing the new material since its launch two years ago. In the interim, the company’s wooly business has grown at a pace that surprised even its co-founders.

From the start, the Allbirds strategy was to hit the wide gap between dress shoes and motley, technical sneakers designed for specific sports. Sartorially, an Allbirds running shoe, or “Lounger,” fits somewhere between a Chelsea boot and a pair of checkered Vans. The timing was propitious, as casual athletic wear increasingly replaces more formal workwear and consumers embrace new e-commerce companies for their sartorial choices. “We’ve been blown away by the success that we’ve had,” co-founder Tim Brown said. “We vastly underestimated the power of the idea of comfort.”

Bayard Winthrop, chief executive officer and founder of apparel brand American Giant, said the cultural shift was catalyzed, in part, by technology. “The narrative has been that millennials don’t like to work, but in reality, young people are working all the time now,” Winthrop said. “So they have a different view of what workwear looks like.” He added: “Honestly, the customers are way ahead of brands on this stuff.”

Big Sneaker, of course, is hustling to catch up. Any good idea in footwear is quickly imitated, as evidenced by the mounting pile of trademark lawsuits between sneaker brands. The Allbirds all-sheep strategy was no exception.

Recently, Nike wove wool into both its Air Max line and its Air Jordans. A little further up market, Ermenegildo Zegna sells a pair of merino wool sneakers for $525. Meanwhile, Giesswein, an Austrian company specializing in slippers and clogs, dropped a merino running shoe in November. “What is clear is that wool is having a moment,” Brown said. “If we’ve been part of the leadership of that, we’d be humbled and flattered.”