Allbirds is stepping out beyond shoes, to become a fully-fledge fashion brand.
Today, the four-year-old company launches its debut apparel collection with a line of t-shirts, sweaters, cardigans, and a puffer jacket for men and women. In keeping with Allbirds’ commitment to sustainability, all of these garments are made with more eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint. Some of the fibers will be familiar to fans of the brand, like its responsibly sourced tencel and wool. But the company has also launched an entirely new material for the t-shirts, which are made from discarded crab shells.
Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, says the company spent several years perfecting this fiber. In 2016, a Japanese scientist first developed a fiber from crab shells and highlighted the material’s inherent antimicrobial properties. Finck says that the first manufacturers of the material ground the shells into powder, then coated fabrics in a kind of natural alternative to the chemical anti-microbial finishes on the market. But now, it is possible to extrude the powder into a fiber, which can be woven into fabric. Allbirds has partnered with a mill to create its own version, which it is calling XO, a play on the word “exoskeleton”. “Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers,” says Finck. “It’s far better for the environment that getting raw materials from scratch.”
Finck says that Allbirds is working with the Marine Stewardship Council to certify the sustainability of these clothes. This would be the first time the Council has certified clothes, rather than seafood. Allbirds was also the first brand to receive a certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council for its eucalyptus fiber tree runner shoes.
While fashion brands can work to make their products and manufacturing processes more eco-friendly, a garment’s impact on the planet is also determined by the consumer, such as how frequently they launder it and how long they wear it for before throwing it out. Finck says that Allbirds’ team has kept this in mind in the design process. The antimicrobial properties, for instance, will mean that customers can wait longer between washes. The clothes are also deliberately designed to be classic, rather than fashion forward, to make it more likely that customers will wear them for years to come.
With this clothing line, Allbirds is defining its aesthetic, which verges on normcore. The pieces are genderless and come in neutral, earthy colors like cream, pine green, and navy. The silhouettes are loose fitting and the materials look cosy to the touch. The puffer jacket, for instance, has a wool and tencel exterior that has a soft hand feel. The brand’s simple, streamlined sneakers have become iconic and ubiquitous in cities like San Francisco and New York. Now, we may begin to see people walking wearing Allbirds head-to-toe.