Sneaker makers are emphasising comfort over performance -- and it's a brilliant move

AllbirdsAllbirds shoes weren’t made to run marathons — just for comfort.

Shoemakers are learning that they can’t forget comfort when designing and marketing their most casual footwear.

Allbirds, one of the industry’s star players, has grown a fan base in Silicon Valley for what it’s called “the world’s most comfortable shoes.”

Many Allbirds-wearers who spoke with Business Insider praised the shoes for their comfort.

“It’s just like wearing a sock,” Nootrobox cofounder Michael Brandt told Business Insider’s Melia Robinson.

That approach seems to be paying off for the company — it announced Tuesday that it had raised $US17.5 million in a Series B funding round, bringing its total venture capital raised to $US27.5 million. Allbirds cofounder Tim Brown told Business Insider the company will use the cash to open new physical stores where it can sell its innovative, comfort-focused shoes.

Similarly, Adidas’ Ultraboost lifestyle running shoe is one of the most popular sneakers in the brand’s star-studded lineup. But it’s especially popular with one group of people who are on their feet all day: nurses. The Boost tech is made out of tiny capsules of highly elastic polymer that return energy and look a bit like a midsole made out of Styrofoam.

On the r/sneakerheads subreddit, the Ultraboost was a clear favourite to the question of which shoe was most comfortable to wear during a shift at the hospital. Sneakerheads and medical professionals agreed unanimously: The Ultraboost is one of the most comfortable shoes out there.

Shoes have been leaning toward comfort for a while now. As dress codes across America continue to loosen, sneakers have become the default footwear for workers in many professions. Americans have realised that the shoes that make sports like running easier also make walking around town easier. Those same principles and technologies have led to shoes that aren’t designed for runners at all, but solely for comfort in everyday life.

And yet, the shoes still have a clear sport-inspired look. It’s all part of the trend of buyers looking for both durability and comfort, which has defined the athleisure trend of the past few years. Athleisure is now a $US45.9 billion market.

“Athleisure plays to the American need for versatility and comfort in a way that neither sportswear nor business casual did,” Deirdre Clemente, a professor of history at UNLV who specialises in apparel, told Business Insider earlier this year. “Look at comfort as a defining factor of this clothing.”

Durability is more difficult for customers to gauge at the time of purchase, but comfort can be felt as soon as you lace your shoes and stand up. That feeling is swaying customers’ purchasing decisions.

It’s unlikely Americans will suddenly fall out of love with comfort, but it’s important to take into account everything comfort means to a wearer, Allbirds cofounder Tim Brown said. Comfort can also apply to a feeling of ease with what a company stands for, like the sustainable materials Allbirds uses in its shoes.

“It hasn’t been about running marathons and going to the Olympics,” Brown said of the company. “It’s been purely about comfort.”

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