If you live in any tech hub–San Francisco, New York, Boston–you may have noticed people walking around with cosy-looking wool running shoes made by the startup Allbirds. I’m at South by Southwest and the streets of Austin are teeming with men and women rocking these simple but distinctive-looking sneakers.
Allbirds, a shoe startup that focuses on the ethical sourcing of raw materials, hit the market in March 2016. The brand quickly took off in the tech community, where sneakers are part of people’s work uniforms. The brand has sold over a million shoes in the last two years, making it one of the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer shoe brands of all time.
But while wool sneakers are great in the cooler months, keeping your feet toasty even without socks, they sometimes get a little too hot in the summer months. Today, Allbirds adds a new collection of shoes to its arsenal, this time made of fibers from the eucalyptus tree. These new “tree shoes” come in two silhouettes: One is similar to the brand’s current runner, and the other looks like a boat shoe.
As the brand’s founders–former New Zealand footballer Tim Brown and entrepreneur Joey Zwilliger–contemplated their next steps, they decided to focus on branching out in terms of materials, rather than just churning out new styles. “Our goal was never to be just a wool company,” says Brown. “Our goal was to create the world’s most sustainable shoes using innovative new materials.”
Brown grew up in New Zealand, where the hills and fields are packed with grazing sheep. Wool is a renewable material that wasn’t commonly used in sneakers, so the founders spent two years developing a model for a comfortable, functional wool shoe, going through hundreds of prototypes before landing on the wool lace-up sneaker, and shortly thereafter, a slip-on, both priced at $95.
Allbirds went through a similar process when developing the tree shoes. The process began with finding the right material. “We looked at many different materials, but when we came across eucalyptus we immediately knew we’d found what we were looking for,” says Zwiliger. “Eucalyptus trees require very little water and grow like a weed all over Australia and New Zealand. They’re basically carbon-eating machines.”
As they worked on this new project, they discovered that not all eucalyptus farms are created equal. Some farms have more sustainable practices than others, by not over-farming and not using pesticides. Allbirds worked with suppliers that complied with the highest possible standards, and these new shoes have the approval of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) a certification that is generally associated with paper products. In fact, these are the first-ever FSC-certified shoes.
To make the shoes, Allbirds turns the eucalyptus tree pulp into fibers that are spun into a fabric. The new shoes feel like they are made from a soft yarn. The fibers are woven loosely, allowing for plenty of ventilation, which is perfect for the summer months. The designers at Allbirds spent months perfecting the silhouette—which is very simple, in keeping with the brand’s aesthetic.
Related Video: Allbirds Has Made Wool Cool–And It’s Shaking Up The Footwear Industry
“It’s hard to tell, but it’s actually very hard work creating something that looks so minimalistic,” says Brown. “There is no place to hide seams or other features, so we need to get creative with the design.”
In two short years, Allbirds has made a splash in the market, attracting consumers who are drawn to the brand’s sustainable approach and the shoes’ aesthetic. This new collection will allow these folks to wear Allbirds comfortably all year round.