Simplicity in design, comfort and made from nature–these are the ingredients of San Francisco-based sneaker (and now also apparel) label Allbirds, founded by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger in 2016. Here, Brown talks about their journey.

What is more important–a sneakers’ look or wearing a sustainable product?
When my co-founder Joey and I launched Allbirds we understood that people don’t buy sustainable products, they buy great products–but to us, the very best products are inherently sustainable. That’s why we set out to prove that comfort, design and sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive and that fashion shouldn’t just feel good, it also has to do good. We see a real shift in consumer sentiment from when we launched–more and more people want brands to take responsibility and provide them with ethical options while not compromising on style or performance.

What are the latest developments at your company?
We’ve had lots of exciting product releases this year, including the launch of our first running shoe, the Dasher. In contrast to the majority of performance shoes on the market, which are made from plastic-based synthetics, the Dasher relies on natural materials, such as eucalyptus tree fiber and sugarcane. As it was our first-ever running shoe, we knew it needed to be an incredible performance product first and foremost. We worked with professional and amateur runners who tested the Dasher for over a year to ensure it delivered on its promise, while our product team was hard at work making sure it met our very high sustainability standards.

Allbirds' new Wool Dasher Mizzle running sneaker
Photo: Allbirds
Allbirds' new Wool Dasher Mizzle running sneaker
In which areas are you trying to work sustainably?
As a certified B Corp, every decision we make is guided by sustainability and we have always been mindful of everything we do, from design to materials, to packaging and our stores. We’ve been eschewing oil-based synthetics in favor of natural materials since day one and we continue to innovate solutions that can help us and our customers tread lighter on the planet.

Where do you see the biggest obstacles?
The biggest challenge we see is the urgency to act against climate change and for industries to work together to achieve widespread impact. To us, the most important place to start is unifying around carbon reduction. Our strategy to minimize our carbon footprint centers around measuring our impact, reducing it and finally offsetting the rest through verified carbon credits.
In addition to this, you’ll see that all of our products are now labeled with their carbon footprint.
Our hope is that other brands will follow suit and that ultimately, carbon labels can become as common as nutritional labels on food. Although we’re still a small company in a huge industry, we’re working towards making a positive difference and we hope to one day actually suck more carbon out of the atmosphere than it takes to produce our products. It’s a lofty goal, but one we’re dedicated to pursuing.

Do fashion trends influence your styles? If yes, in which ways?
Our design philosophy is centered around a minimalist aesthetic and we refer to it as “the right amount of nothing.” It enables us to strip back unnecessary details and focus on creating simple, functional and timeless pieces that are designed to last. While we don’t make decisions based on fashion trends, we listen very closely to our community to understand their needs and wants. As a vertical retailer, we’re in a very fortunate position where we can truly connect with our customers and have an open dialogue. We are customer-obsessed and use their feedback to continuously improve our products.

Are you customer-obsessed?
Our community is hugely important to us. As we don’t sell through wholesale channels, we are able to forge deeper, ongoing relationships with our customers. This direct access allows us to gain invaluable insights from every touchpoint in the customer journey, whether they’re interacting with us on social media, browsing our website or visiting our physical stores. Earlier this year we launched the Allgood Collective, group of individuals who are dedicated to spreading positive change in their communities. By giving them access to our platforms we’re amplifying their voices so they can spread their message to an even broader audience, while inviting their followers to get involved with our mission.
Women's jumper by Allbirds
Photo: Allbirds
Women's jumper by Allbirds
What are your future plans for the company?
We have plenty of exciting product releases and initiatives coming up next year. We actually just launched our first apparel collection, featuring sustainable woolen knitwear, a T-shirt made from TrinoXO that stays fresher for longer due to a technology derived from crab shells, and a puffer jacket made from natural materials. We’re excited to continue to innovate further in both the footwear and apparel space. The mission behind Allbirds was never just about footwear, but rather a larger vision of how businesses could create solutions to combat the climate crisis. Our ultimate mission is to reverse environmental impact through better consumption and inspire people to live life in better balance.