If it’s good enough for your sweater, it’s good enough for your shoes. That, at least, is how Allbirds feels about wool. The chic shoes, which seem to be nearing ubiquity among fashion-forward crowds these days, are rather understated insofar as their design is concerned. But if you take a closer look, you will find they are made of a rather odd material. Sure, merino wool seems perfectly reasonable for socks, but for other footwear? Not so much.
Allbirds, of course, disagrees. A Kickstarter success story, founder Tim Brown initially put forth his notion of wool shoes in 2014. A native of New Zealand, Brown grew up surrounded by sheep and well-versed in the benefits of the material. Noticing a gap in the shoe market, he decided to create a shoe inspired by natural materials. In just a few short days (four, to be exact), he managed to sell $120,000 worth of wool shoes. Worried that he would not be able to keep up with demand, he promptly shut down the campaign.
Three years later, the company has raised $27.5 million and is selling its wool runners and wool loungers to folks all over the world. And now, Allbirds has launched its first children’s style as well. Dubbed Smallbirds, these miniaturized versions of the popular shoe promise to be stretchy enough for growing feet, and will sell for $55 in either NZ Blue, Kea Red, or Natural Grey.
So why wool? Not only is the material sustainable, but for the same reasons that it makes for good clothing, it makes for good shoes. Allbirds notes that merino minimizes odor, regulates temperature, and wicks moisture — all perfect for keeping your feet cozy (without becoming stinky). And these qualities also make wool quite suitable for young feet as well. As Brown noted, “Given merino wool’s intrinsic qualities, it made complete sense to move [in the direction of kids’ shoes] – it’s soft-to-the-touch, washable, and tailor-made for sensitive, young skin.”
To be fair, this is no normal merino wool. Because merino wool is so fine, Allbirds notes that it’s no easy task to make a fabric durable enough for shoes. So to address this problem, Brown partnered with San Francisco-based engineer Joey Zwillinger, who specializes in renewables. The partnership resulted in an “innovative wool fabric made specifically for footwear,” which promises to be the foundation for “the most comfortable shoe imaginable.”
Allbirds invites everyone to put this claim to the test, promising a 30-day money-back guarantee for its customers. But it certainly doesn’t seem as though very many people are sending the shoes back. That said, we should point out that Allbirds’ sneakers (called Runners) are not really meant for performance running or hiking in rugged terrain. City slickers, however, will be happy to hear that you can wash the grime off your shoes. Hand washing is recommended, though you can also place the shoes in a linen bag and then throw them in the washing machine (on a wool/delicates cycle of course).
So if you are in search of a new pair of kicks come fall, you may just get a pair of sneakers to match your sweaters.
Update: Allbirds launches a children’s line known as Smallbirds.