A good entrepreneur is someone who develops a concept that he lacks in his daily life. Because if he is filling a void in his life, there is a good chance that he will be the same for others. It is not Tim Brown, co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, who will say otherwise. A former professional footballer, particularly a representative of the New Zealand national team between 2004 and 2012, during his career as a high-profile sports player, he began to take a serious interest in the environment. Sponsored by a well-known equipment manufacturer, it realizes that the clothes and shoes offered by the brand are made of highly polluting synthetic materials. Meanwhile, he gets tired of the flashy logos and the extravagant trademark colors on his field uniform. “I needed simplicity, both stylistic and material,” he recalls. Then he started making woolen shoes with a simple design, which he simply sold to his teammates. As he neared retirement, the idea of creating a responsible sneaker brand started in his mind. On the advice of a business school professor, he launched his first Kickstarter campaign to fund his concept. In just four days, he received 1,000 requests.
Responsible Basketball: From Dream to Reality
Among the campaign participants is Joy Zwillinger, an engineer and expert in renewable materials. The latter prompts him to take this project seriously and imagine the positive impact that such a brand could have on the basketball industry as well as on sports and fashion in general. Convinced, the former soccer player and his new boyfriend teamed up together, and they officially created Allbirds in San Francisco, in 2016. In their early years, the duo discovered the joys and challenges of life as entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is a dream and it’s a great adventure, but it wasn’t immediately successful,” says Tim Brown. We had to develop several hundred prototypes before finding the one that worked for us. We’ve gone through difficult phases, endless days when it felt like we’d never get there. I often wanted to give up. “
On March 1, 2016, Allbirds revealed their first sneaker: Wool Runner. The duo have developed a wool fabric specially made for shoes. The result: a new type of sports shoe, made of a responsible material that consumes 60% less energy than classic sports shoes, and with a stylish design. Barely fifteen months after its launch, Allbirds were already enjoying praise from the “New York Times,” which called the brand “Silicon Valley shoes” and “Time” which judged its flagship model “the most comfortable sneaker in the world.” The brand is quickly attracting the attention of some tech tycoons, such as Larry Page (co-founder of Google) or Dick Costolo (co-founder of Twitter) and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio (who will invest in the company in 2018), Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson, Cindy Crawford and even Barack Obama. But it’s an entirely different character that will make Tim Brown aware of the magnitude of what’s at stake. “When Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand Prime Minister, Editor’s Note) was spotted with a pair of Allbirds on her feet, as a New Zealander, I felt a lot of pride,” he says. In two years, the brand will sell 1 million pairs of Wool Runner.
Collaborate to protect the planet
Time passes and Allbirds grows, offering more innovative materials that remain environmentally friendly. After merino wool, the brand services eucalyptus fibers that are irrigated without artificial watering on South African farms (which require 95% less water than cotton), and their outsoles are made from sugarcane from Brazil, and their soles are from castor seeds and straps from recycled water bottles. . Tencel and natural latex are also used regularly. In February 2021, the brand announced an investment of up to $ 2 million in Natural Fiber Welding with the goal of marketing the world’s first 100% vegan skins. This sustainable, dubbed ‘plant skin’ alternative to animal and synthetic leather is made with vegetable oils, natural latex, and other organic ingredients. She argues that this affordable and scalable material has 40 times less carbon effect than leather and 17 times less carbon dioxide than plastic-based synthetics.
An innovation that many brands have worked on for years and Allbirds don’t intend to hide it. While the competitiveness of brands may require everyone to keep the recipe for their innovations to themselves, the brand does not hesitate to share its results with its competitors. “Recently, Timberland, Ugg and Reebok have notably launched products that include SweetFoam ™ sole, which is made with ethically sourced sugarcane and contains an alternative to petroleum foam widely used in the industry, notes Tim Brown. Alone, our company cannot hope for Reversing the environmental crisis trajectory. As a company, it is our duty to prioritize cooperation for the good of the planet and not just competition for the benefit of the economic and financial side. The altruistic approach that Hana Kagimura, Head of Sustainability at Allbirds also describes as an interesting business strategy. “The more brands we have. Use this material, the cheaper it is to purchase. It is also a concept that should be kept in mind for our development. “
In this approach, the brand teamed up with the German giant Adidas in May 2020 to work on developing a high-performance shoe with the lowest carbon footprint ever created. Likewise, on this Thursday, April 22nd, the date of Earth Day, she unveiled her roadmap to cut carbon emissions in the fashion industry. “Not only does this encourage brands to adopt the necessary measures, but it also allows consumers to educate themselves about this issue and learn how to analyze the data provided by the labels,” explains Tim Brown.
Towards neutral carbon wool
A commitment necessary when we know that the footwear industry generates more than 700 million tons of carbon emissions every year. In comparison, this relates to what Germany produces annually. After becoming carbon neutral at the end of 2019 thanks to an internal carbon tax, Allbirds intends to go ahead with its responsible approach, particularly in the merino wool sector. “We have launched a five-year business plan,” explains Hanna Kagimura. It focuses on renewable agriculture, which is a natural agricultural technique that has the ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and reabsorb it back into the ground. We are redoubling our efforts to find a way to produce less carbon dense wool, not only for ourselves, but also for the entire fashion industry. By the end of 2025, 100% of our wool will come from renewable sources, and 100% of our annual wool emissions on the farm will be reduced or isolated. So our wool will be carbon neutral. “
If the pandemic affects thousands of companies around the world, the brand remains confident in itself. Thanks to her identity as a digital citizen, she has managed to maintain stable growth. “Even if retail has struggled in recent months, we will continue to establish ourselves in new cities,” says the brand’s co-founder. Already present in Europe thanks to its stores in London and Berlin, it tested the French market at the end of 2020 by creating a two-month temporary space at Merci. It was also the year of its first garment launch, and it was ZQ, Oeko-Tex 100, and FSC certified depending on the product. Each part is marked with its own carbon footprint to enhance customer support. Tim Brown notes that “the health crisis has demonstrated the extent to which the human-environment link is essential to the survival of humanity.” The Covid-19 virus has accelerated the environmental awareness movement, which was already underway before the pandemic. Ultimately, the pandemic will have made the Allbirds more legal than ever.
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