Allbirds: Soaring to New Heights
Looking for a shoe that will leave your feet feeling like a million bucks even after a long day? Meet Allbirds, the quickest rising company in the footwear industry; founded in 2014, Allbirds has been profitable since day one and has only risen in popularity and success since. In fact, they recently became one of the newest Silicon Valley “unicorns” with their newly minted $1 billion valuation.
Allbirds is the brainchild of Tim Brown, a New Zealand native. Growing up in a country where sheep outnumber humans six to one, Brown had extensive experience dealing with sheep and their wool. At some point, it dawned on him that the footwear industry lacked shoes made out of merino wool – no, it needed shoes made out of merino wool. And so, Allbirds was born.
Allbirds prides themselves on two key traits: first, they are dedicated to maintaining sustainability efforts, and second, they create the most comfortable shoes in the world. On the side of sustainability, they have been able to create shoes that use all natural materials. For their “Wool” shoes, the main material is the aforementioned merino wool; they use recycled bottles for the laces, castor bean oil for the soles, and recycled cardboard for the packaging. The only other type of shoes they sell, their “Tree” shoes, are made from eucalyptus tree fiber sourced from South African farms that rely on rainfall as opposed to irrigation, ultimately cutting Allbirds’ carbon footprint in half. They have also partnered with B Corp and Soles4Souls in order to further their sustainability efforts. On the comfort side, one needs to look no further than the hundreds of online reviews that deem Allbirds to be one of the most comfortable shoes people have ever worn. The merino wool is breathable and temperature-regulating, and best of all, it can be worn without socks for that oh-so-trendy no-sock style.
Allbirds has been a fantastic success story thus far, but it is important to be realistic in their future outlook. The footwear industry is a vast, heavily saturated $100 billion industry. Allbirds only has two shoe styles; each would generally be classified as “Lifestyle.” These shoes can be dressed up or dressed down, depending on occasion, but they are effectively casual-wear shoes with a bit of a sporty, relaxed air. In this regard, they are competing with industry-giants like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, New Balance, Vans, and more. Thus, it will certainly be an uphill battle to continue to advance and maintain their position in a crowded industry.
Further challenges that could test the company include their minimalistic branding and lack of major advertising power. As of now, Allbirds’ shoes are extremely simplistic in design – they are effectively just a solid color, or at most two solid colors, with the wool giving them a textured look. Their logo is small and unnoticeable, placed at the top of the tongue with nothing distinguishable. Compare this to Nike or Adidas, whose respective swoosh and three stripes are nearly ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Allbirds could find it difficult for people to attach to the company with their lack of a visual cue. This point carries even more significance when coupled with the fact that Allbirds does not have the far-reaching advertisements that Nike or Adidas do. They primarily stick to Instagram and website-based advertisements, which are effective, but ultimately may not keep the product at the front of people’s minds as often as need be. A more prominent logo could serve as a way for Allbirds to effectively sell an advertisement every time they sell one of their products.
Moving forward, it seems like Allbirds should develop a more recognizable branding package if they want to maintain their spot amongst industry giants once their novelty wears off. Of course, it will be difficult to move away from the type of business practices that have led to their meteoric rise, and the argument can be made that they are almost distinctive in their simplicity. Regardless, their early success deserves to be applauded, and if reviews deeming them “the most comfortable shoe in the world” are to be believed, they may just have a long-term spot in the industry.