For Allbirds, it’s all about the triple bottom line
As a native New Zealander, Tim Brown was always well versed in the qualities of merino wool, so it’s no wonder he began to question why it was virtually absent from the footwear industry.
That spirit of wonder is how the Allbirds journey began. Then came years of research and modification, but always with the mantra to create better things in better ways. Finally, Tim teamed up with Joey Zwillinger to craft a revolutionary wool fabric made specifically for footwear.
You probably know the rest of the story. Allbirds is now a globally recognised brand, and it was recently valued at US$1.4 billion ($2.13 billion), according to the Wall Street Journal.
But I recently learned more about the company on a trip last month to Amsterdam, where I navigated my way to Fashion for Good, a museum dedicated to innovation in the fashion industry. The theme of the final curated collection was Naked: A transparent journey in fashion, and it included six brands, including Allbirds.
Here are some things you may not know about this wildly popular New Zealand-born brand.
A sustainable edge
The average garment travels 14,000km to the customer and connects with 100 pairs of human hands along the way. This means transparency and traceability are more pertinent brand assets than ever, and it gives Allbirds an edge in the market to lead, reshape and transform the industry for the future.
Working closely with ZQ Merino, the company has set out to ensure the wool it uses is held to the highest standards of farming and that each batch is traceable back to the farm level, focusing on land management and animal welfare.
As a leading producer of ethical wool and supporter of sustainable farming for generations to come, ZQ operates as an extension of the Allbirds business. It gives greater depth to the brand’s wool story and lends its expertise to the brand.
Now, Allbirds is bringing this innovative fabric to a wide range of businesses. Air New Zealand recently tasked the brand with an interesting challenge: to reimagine comfort for their Business Premier cabin. Creating a sleep mask which passengers would never leave behind in their seat pocket, while at the same time highlighting a mutual commitment to innovation and sustainability
And US burger chain Shake Shack recently partnered with Allbirds on a pop-up in Madison Square Park, where they created an art installation and offered one-of-a-kind Shake Shack Tree Runners, a custom, limited-edition lace kit and a Hokey Pokey milkshake, inspired by the flavours of New Zealand.
A community of brand advocates
Allbirds recently released a new range called the Tree Breezer, a take on the old-school ballet flat that uses FSC-certified tree material and bouncy sugarcane, Sweetfoam, in the sole to create a pair of flats that are comfortable even during the first wear.
The shoes came about from customers saying that there was more the brand could do to fit the needs of their daily lives. With a strong community of avid brand followers, the company created a two-way conversation to understand what they wanted and what the brand may have been missing. The result? A more feminine silhouette that customers can wear all weeklong.
“Their feedback is deeply integrated into our design process, and we are always working to create products that respond to their needs,” Allbirds said.
B Corp: The triple bottom line
Certified as a B Corp since December 2016, Allbirds do business differently, taking into account a very holistic view of their business, including corporate governance, their workers, the communities in which they work in and the environment.
As part of a rigorous B Impact Report, Allbirds goes into its mission and engagement, worker ownership, corporate culture, civic engagement and giving, supply chain poverty alleviation, environmentally innovative wholesale processes, land and wildlife conservation amongst many others.
With thousands of companies across the world now recognising the value and meaning of being a B Corp-certified organisation, there are 22 New Zealand-based organisations including Brown Bread, Ethique, WE-AR, Little Yellow Bird, BioBalance and many others offering products and services that bridge the gap between for profit and for purpose.
“As a certified B Corp with a focus on making better things in a better way, we’ve never been satisfied with the
Innovation at the core
After two years in development, Allbirds’ proprietary sole material – SweetFoam – is made with carbon negative green-EVA, derived from renewable sugarcane. The highly efficient crop grows in dense, rain-fed fields in Southern Brazil with minimal fertilizer, and is processed in facilities that are run entirely on renewable power, amounting to the world’s first carbon negative EVA.
Allbirds will introduce SweetFoam across its product portfolio, while also encouraging the entire footwear industry to follow their lead and bring this renewable green-EVA technology into their companies through open-source product development.
With the hope that this innovation will spur an industry sea-change and shift one of the dirtiest, and most widely used materials to be greener than ever before.
Allbirds has incorporated sustainability into its shoe and company design from the outset and has attracted the attention of mainstream investors by breaking the mould.
The founders have come into the industry with no experience in the footwear industry which has given them a competitive advantage without the baggage of preconceived notions. And attracted the attention of investors like Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker and award-winning actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio.
The alignment of for-profit and for-purpose organisations is a radical business model that the retail industry needs to be adopting at a faster pace to keep up with other global industries making waves of change in their industry.