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To say that Allbirds made wool sneakers “happen” would be an understatement.
In the last two years, the San Francisco-based startup has sold over 1 million pairs of wool shoes, and it is rumored to make some $100 million in annual sales. The company has spawned knockoffs so striking it’s had to lawyer up, and it was even cited as one of the reasons for the recent global demand for merino wool.
But with its ubiquity also comes complaints, the main one being that wool isn’t necessarily the most universal material for a company that claims to make “the world’s most comfortable shoe” that’s supposed to be worn without socks. (“I do have very sweaty feet, so I can concur with the clammy feeling,” reads one review.) Allbirds’ wool shoes might be the footwear of choice for the tech scene in San Francisco, where the temperature is mild, but it is now selling in every state in the country, and the company says its best-performing market is Atlanta — not exactly a haven for wool.
Today, Allbirds is launching a new material for its footwear, made from eucalyptus pulp and called “Tree.” The company promises that the new textile is even more breathable, and is now offering shoes with mesh construction and a silky feel alongside the old favorites.
Tim Brown, a former professional soccer player and one of the co-founders of Allbirds, tells Racked the launch speaks to the company’s focus on comfort.
“Comfort when it’s raining is quite different from comfort in the fall,” he says, “and we’re trying to solve comfort in different ways, through different materials.”
“At the time that we were launching, we had this perspective that while wool is fantastic, it wasn’t big enough. Wool has its imperfections when it’s hot, muggy, and raining. So we started looking at materials that could hit in those conditions,” adds Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds’ other co-founder.
To coincide with the launch of the new material, Allbirds is also debuting a third shoe style; alongside its “runner” sneaker and “lounger” slipper,” now there’s also the “Skipper,” the company’s take on a boat shoe that’s only launching in Tree.
Zwillinger says Allbirds’ latest material marks another chapter in the company’s goal of sustainability. Its shoes, for example, are shipped directly to customers in shoeboxes to avoid using an additional box and adding to the problem of e-commerce packaging waste. Its shoelaces are made from recycled plastic bottles. The company says its new eucalyptus material uses much less water and land than traditional materials used in footwear. It is also the first shoe material to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Back in September, Allbirds raised $17.5 million in Series B funding, money it’s using to expand its store footprint. The company has stores in New York and San Francisco, and is currently looking into a Chicago location as well as growing internationally. Zwillinger also says the company is putting the money toward researching additional sustainable materials for footwear, like polymers.
“A big part of our hope is that we are catalyzing a movement,” says Zwillinger. “We’d love to be able to be a leader of a space where people are starting to think more about sustainable materials.”