Allbirds are supremely comfortable shoes which have long used clever tech to provide light, flexible and highly appealing footwear. Now, the company has launched Plant Pacers, an alternative to leather. Allbirds can be understated to look at, but this unassuming quality helped catapult them to success as the go-to shoe in Silicon Valley.
Leading identities, as they say, from Larry Page to Andreesen Horowitz’s Ben Horowitz, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and Barack Obama have reportedly sported a pair. Part of the reason for the popularity is the company’s commitment to sustainability.
Tim Brown, a former vice-captain of the New Zealand soccer team, won a research grant from the wool industry in his country to engineer a sneaker. In 2014, things got off to a cracking start with a Kickstarter launch: as Brown explained to Footwear News, “The thing blew up. We sold $120,000 worth of shoes in four days.” By October 2018, it had become a unicorn, with a valuation of around $1.4 billion, it’s been reported. It was listed on NASDAQ in November 2021 under the ticker symbol BIRD.
Brown teamed up with biotech engineer and renewables expert Joey Zwillinger, with a goal of creating “better things in a better way”.
So, the materials used have always been picked with sustainability to the fore, with merino wool intrinsic to its first product, the Wool Runner. But there have also sometimes been surprising ingredients. For instance, it created its own SweetFoam which is used in the shoes’ soles and comes from sugarcane. And shoelaces are made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s recycled nylon in some products and TrinoXO in others, which contains chitosan, made from crab shells. Seriously.
Take out the insole foam—you need to remove this and the shoelaces when you chuck the shoes in the washing machine to clean them—and you may care to know that what you’re holding is a material based on merino wool and castor bean oil.
So, the logical latest step is that Allbirds would create a leather alternative. But where some rivals have used plastic leather (or, in that horrible word that makes it sound like you’re spitting, pleather), Allbirds has used Mirum, in partnership with NFW, which stands for Natural Fiber Welding. Mirum is entirely plastic-free and made from natural materials.
Not only does this mean less plastic is being created, it has a low carbon footprint. According to Allbirds, this carbon footprint is 88% lower than leather made from cows and 75% lower than synthetic pleather, and I promise not to use that word again. Allbirds says the total carbon footprint is 8.24kg CO2e. That may be low but it’s still not nothing, so Allbirds says it offsets this.
Mirum, by the way, is not exclusive to Allbirds, having made its international footwear debut earlier in the year with Mallorca-based Camper releasing the Runner K21 and H&M putting Mirum in the heel, for example of some of its Cherish Waste collection shoes. Bellroy, Woolly Made and Pangaia are among other brands using Mirum.
It contains lots of different ingredients, including rice hulls, coconut husk fiber, natural rubber and cork powder, a byproduct of making wine stoppers. It also, Allbirds explains, includes citrus peels.
It’s durable, in fact it will last long enough to mean that NFW can’t say that it conforms to the regulated term biodegradability. The company prefers the word bioneutrality.
There’s more. Allbirds developed something called Tencel, using eucalyptus trees and this provides a breathable lining to the Plant Pacers.
And if you’re not sure about putting your feet in something made from citrus peels, don’t worry, these shoes are anything but lemons. They look great, especially the Dreamy Green limited edition, and have the trademark Allbirds lightweight feel and cloud-like comfort levels. They are a different shape from other Allbirds, so check the look before you buy if you’re an Allbirds die-hard.
Plant Pacers have just gone on sale and cost $135 (£120 in the U.K.) and come in two colors, Natural White and that limited-edition Dreamy Green. The company’s other latest design, Canvas Pacers (you can work out what they’re made of, I think) also cost $135 (£110 in the U.K.).