Allbirds is getting into the running shoe business.
The buzzy sustainable footwear brand today will introduce Dasher, a style made with a sugarcane sole, renewable eucalyptus and the brand’s trademark merino wool. The idea behind the shoe is to give consumers an alternative to plastic that is the main ingredient in most other running shoes.
Tim Brown, a former professional soccer player from New Zealand who is cofounder of Allbirds, said the company realizes how competitive the market is, but believes runners will embrace a sustainable alternative. “We’ve been told that natural and sustainable materials can’t play there,” Brown said. “[As a former athlete,] I understand the challenges and don’t take it lightly. But customers are demanding sustainable materials.”
Other footwear brands such as Nike with its Space Hippie collection, and Adidas through its collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, also offer sustainable shoes, but they’re more geared to lifestyle use than true running.
Brown said Allbirds put the Dasher through thousands of miles of testing by more than 50 amateur and professional athletes to ensure the shoe offered flexible stability and natural cushioning for the “everyday runner.” Its technical attributes include a one-piece eucalyptus-based knit covering that cradles and stabilizes the foot, an anatomically contoured footbed that provides arch support and cups the heel with a castor bean foam insole that offers low-impact comfort. A flared heel slows excessive pronation, a responsive dual-density SweetFoam midsole offers maximum cushioning and energy return, and an integrated heel-drop-to-toe propels the foot forward at the end of the stride. The outsole is made of natural rubber to increase durability in high-wear areas.
Additionally, the shoe has the potential to suck more carbon out of the atmosphere than it takes to produce. “This is the most important thing we’ve done in our six years in business,” Brown said. Allbirds has committed to become carbon-neutral.
The design of the shoe is also intended to mimic the company’s other popular footwear models. “It’s the evolution of our design philosophy — stripping things away,” he said. “It’s quite different from the over-logoed and over-colored” models offered by competitors.
He said that despite the global shutdown, there hasn’t been a problem sourcing the materials for the shoe, and the factories that produce them are located outside Hong Kong and are running again.
The shoe will retail for $125 and will be sold on Allbirds’ e-commerce site now and its 19 stores when they reopen. “We have no wholesale in our business,” he said, “and 15 of our stores are not operational, so that presents some challenges.” But Allbirds believes the message of the Dasher — its marketing materials tout: Run Hard. Tread Light. — is too important to delay.
Brown said business continues to be good for the company overall and Allbirds has committed to keep every employee on the payroll through the end of July with full benefits. Even so, he said the brand is facing challenges like every other business and was “sensitive about launching a new product” in this environment, “but it feels important. We’ve seen people coming together and fighting back, enjoying nature — there are bald eagles in Central Park. That’s the north star of our business, so it’s an important time to introduce this product.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic forced shutdowns around the globe, air pollution has dropped substantially, skies are clearer and animals are venturing into places they haven’t been in decades. And while Brown doesn’t expect this to last forever, he hopes there will be some permanent changes. “There’s been an enormous amount of sacrifice and we won’t go back to life as we knew it. We feel there is an opportunity for us to return even better — from the way we work to how we treat other people. And we are seeing people working together in a global way. So there can be some good things that come out of this.”
He said it was “not our place to speak to the pandemic, but we continue to forge ahead, and this product has a place in this moment.”
The shoe will be offered in four colors for both men and women in full and half sizes.
Since its founding in 2014, Allbirds has raised $77.5 million and has a reported valuation of $1.4 billion.