Allbirds: A Sustainable Shoe that Disrupts the Industry
This company wants to put mindful materials back into your shoe shopping experience. AllBirds is a new innovative footwear company created by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger with a vision specifically to do things differently. Created in response to the lack of casual footwear utilizing minimalistic design and sustainable materials, AllBirds brings a new utilitarian aesthetic to footwear by using New Zealand superfine merino wool to make sneakers. Merino wool is not only a sustainable resource but also minimizes odor, regulates temperature and wicks away moisture. After a successful launch, they are primed and ready to take on the footwear market.
IMPAKTER: How have you gotten where you are today? Tell me a little about your story. Where and when did the initial idea for AllBirds come to mind?
Tim Brown: The idea for AllBirds came from a burst of curiosity. While I was playing soccer professionally, I had a growing sense there was a need for a design aesthetic in casual footwear that avoided loud colors, huge logos and synthetic materials. I am fond of shoes and got some of my ideas at shoe snatcher which is a leading website when it comes to shoe design and foot health. To fill that need (and my time away from training,) I decided to create something simple, and anti-design — more utilitarian than anything, that used mindful materials. That last bit was the most critical and set me on the path to creating a woolen fabric suitable for use in footwear.
Coming from New Zealand, uncommonly known as the land of twenty-nine million sheep, I knew superfine merino wool was a miracle fiber — it’s moisture wicking, it’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and incredibly soft to the touch. It was a matter of working to get the wool turned into something that would be wildly great and durable for a shoe. That challenge and curiosity ultimately birthed AllBirds.
Moving forward, In terms of AllBirds, what exciting new projects are you working on?
T.B.: We’ve got lots in the pipeline. There is tons to be done with wool and other natural material innovations that we think have been largely ignored by the casual footwear market.
Related article: “OUTFITTERY: REVOLUTIONIZING THE PERSONAL SHOPPING EXPERIENCE“
What would you say is your overall goal for your company, and how do you plan on accomplishing this goal?
T.B.: We want to make better things, in a better way and the initial focus is footwear. We believe there is a massive opportunity to approach shoe-making differently. We see the current industry as lacking innovation, subscribing to old school distribution and, as mentioned, heavily relying on synthetic materials. Ultimately, we feel that the casual footwear market has a big opening for a brand that is thinking and acting a little differently.
And how is AllBirds different? Our shoes are sold direct to consumers to bridge the disconnect between retailers and customers — allowing transparency into what you are purchasing. That’s promise number one.
Promise number two is quality. Our New Zealand wool is milled outside of Milan, and then the shoe itself is assembled in Korea. We have gone to the best material sources; and where we can, we’ve chosen natural materials to substitute for synthetic ones – for example, castor bean oil-based insoles, our ZQ certified merino upper fabric, the introduction of water-based solvents in our manufacturing. The result is a shoe that feels excellent and looks great.
And, promise number three (the last one we promise) is we will do everything we can to make the best product in the best way possible in terms of treading lightly on the planet. We’ve got a long way to go and much to improve on but this mentality drives our team.
When it comes to your team, what communication strategies do you use to get them going?
T.B.: I think neither my co-founder, Joey Zwillinger, or I grew up dreaming of creating a footwear brand. We’ve come into this industry a bit by chance, a lot by curiosity and very much cold. For the most part, we don’t know what rules we’re breaking and we hope to use that to our advantage. What is clear is there is a difference to be made in the footwear industry. Fortunately, and in a way that has really humbled us, we’ve attracted some incredibly smart folks to help us do that.
Blood sweat and tears, tell me a story about the most challenging adversaries you have faced since being CEO?
T.B.: Just about everything is a challenge when you are trying to get something moving but gosh it is fun. Quite frankly, having Joey as a co-founder and a co-CEO makes it more enjoyable that it would be alone and I feel fortunate to have him as a partner. The challenges we are facing evolve everyday but our robust debate, relentless desire to improve, and a willingness to ask lots of questions has been the foundation for our success so far. If I was offering any advice (and I haven’t been asked I know) it would be to find co-founders who compliment what you do. It is no easy thing.
Is Allbirds directly involved in any philanthropy?
T.B.: Yes, we have a partnership with a company called Soles4Souls – where we give our used shoes new life and help communities in need. It’s part of our promise to be a little bit better.
For a full mindmap behind this article with articles, videos, and documents see #Allbirds
On a personal level, what are your own values and how do you tie them in with leading your company?
T.B.: There are a number of parallels to what we are doing now and my previous career as professional athlete. When I played, the real purpose for me was not to just earn a pay check but to play for my country, New Zealand. Likewise with AllBirds, we are not just making shoes, we are trying to make a difference in an industry that drives us. Purpose is a huge driver for me and I know for Joey too.
What makes Allbirds better than all the brands you are in direct competition with?
T.B.: I am not sure we are—we’re four months old and we have a lot to prove. There are some incredible footwear companies in the market – Nike, Adidas, etc., all with the sort of lineage we could only dream about. However, when you zoom in on the casual footwear market we see a huge opportunity for AllBirds and a brand like ours to make a meaningful contribution. Hopefully, we can do that; we are certainly trying to!
Recommended reading: “MEET THE SNEAKERS THAT WILL REPLACE YOUR CONVERSE”
EDITOR’S NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE BY IMPAKTER.COM COLUMNISTS ARE THEIR OWN, NOT THOSE OF IMPAKTER.COM.
PHOTO CREDIT: www.allbirds.com
Interview with Tim Brown Instagram.com