Allbirds, Hatching Smallbirds, Expands From Silicon Valley



If you haven’t heard of Allbirds, you haven’t been in Silicon Valley lately. The de rigueur footwear for techies and VCs, the direct-to-consumer brand debuted last year and opened its first brick-and-mortar location in San Francisco in April, followed by a store in New York that opened last month and a Smallbirds line for kids.

“There was a really strong sense from customers that they wanted this. We thought this was a natural use of our soft, comfortable materials, to create kids’ shoes that were just as good, if not better,” co-founder Tim Brown told CNBC.


The shoes are made from merino wool from from New Zealand sheep and therefore not only soft, but also moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating and (surprisingly) machine-washable. They’re also affordable: $55 for kids’ shoes and a sneaker and a flat for adults, both for $95.

In another attraction for Californians, they can be worn without socks, and are odor-minimizing, and have a low-carbon footprint. Allbirds is a favored startup, gathering more than $27 million in equity to date from partners including Tiger Global, Elephant, Maveron and Lerer Hippeau Ventures.

The stretchy nature of the wool accommodates growing feet, while the wool is not itchy—and the no-socks appeal also is a boon.

In a sweet content marketing touch, each pair of Smallbirds sold come with a sheepish tale for kids (written by Zwillinger) called Sadie Shaves the Day.

“It’s a quirky tale about a sheep who is concerned when winter comes sooner than expected, causing all the other animals on the farm to feel cold. The book doesn’t mention Allbirds shoes at all, but covers weighty topics like climate change, how caring is sharing, and the importance of consuming vitamin-rich green juice,” Fast Company notes.

Brown, a New Zealander and former soccer payer, and partner/entrepreneur Joey Zwillinger, founded the company in 2015 with a sustainability mission. “It’s not enough to sell a product,” Brown told CNBC. “[Retailers] need to be trying to do something more.”

“Allbirds is filling a real void in the footwear industry,” Brown says of his sustainable quality goals. “With the rising popularity of casual footwear, there has been a simultaneous decline in attention to detail, with brands often hiding behind flashy logos and wild colors. On a more granular level, we’ve focused maniacally on natural material innovation, on endlessly refining our silhouettes and designs, and of caring deeply about every stage of the customer experience. As is always the case in my experience with success, it all comes down to lots of hard work.”

Zwillinger says the company is taking cues from restaurants, telling the Fashion Tech Forum in L.A. earlier this month, his brand is “servicing customers with the inventory in front of them. We have a bartender around the inventory; we have hostesses, bar backs, all of these analogies to create a better experience for shoe buying. We’re interested in pushing that model forward.”

With a background in engineering, he added, “Our focus is redefining comfort because of highly sustainable materials that have been ignored. It’s always a secondary consideration.”

“Given merino wool’s intrinsic qualities, it made complete sense to move in that direction,” Brown adds. “Plus, the naming options were just too good.”


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