The $95 wool sneakers taking Silicon Valley by storm are rather unremarkable.
That’s fine by Allbirds cofounders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, who believe the shoe’s simplicity might be the secret to its success.
Back when Brown played professional soccer in his home country of New Zealand, he got a lot of free shoes. His sponsors, including Nike, mostly sent them. There was just one problem.
“I was covered in swishes,” Brown said. He felt like a walking billboard.
In 2014, when he set out to build a more comfortable, more sustainable casual shoe, Brown decided he wanted his sneaker’s design, rather than a flashy logo, to speak for the company’s quality.
Made of merino wool sourced from New Zealand and processed in Milan, Italy, Allbirds sneakers look like hiking socks attached to clog treads. The seams are hidden rather than decorative. And when you take them off, the material flops over under its own weight.
There’s almost no telltale sign of who makes them, save two small details: the slightly enlarged eyelets and a swish that resembles a bird emblazoned on the shoe’s tongue and heel.
Going without a flashy logo hasn’t been a problem for Allbirds, at least anecdotally.
The company, which recently announced a $7.25 million round of funding, declined to share specific sales numbers. But the shoe is blowing up in the Bay Area, where startup founders and venture capitalists like to post photos of their Allbirds-adorned feet on social media. At least one industry insider speculates that the sneaker could become a part of the VC dress code in the same way that a hoodie and T-shirt currently make up the “startup uniform.”
“We created a silhouette, a shape, and a visual language that is really standing out, and I think it does that by whispering when everyone else is screaming,” Brown said.
The shoes also take a cue from the farm-to-table food movement, according to Brown.
While most shoes’ soles are made from natural materials — such as leather or canvas — or synthetic, petroleum-based materials, Allbirds’ shoes use sustainable wool and castor bean oil in the base. This natural plastic substitute can be grown on small plots of land with little water and doesn’t compete with land for food crops.
Allbirds plans to develop even more sustainable fabrics as part of its efforts to create a legacy of comfortable, environmentally responsible footwear.
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