Investors Are Not Sheepish About Allbirds' Trendy Wool Sneakers

But Mother Nature is proving to be bountiful indeed for trendy footwear startup Allbirds, which has secured $50 million in additional funding from T. Rowe Price Investment Management, Fidelity Management and Tiger Global Management and is now valued at more than $1.4 billion. 

Allbird, founded a couple of years ago by New Zealand native Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, a bioengineer from California, uses materials such as merino wool, eucalyptus tree fiber and sugar cane to craft sneakers that claim to be the “World’s Most Comfortable Shoes.”

“The valuation, which wasn’t publicly disclosed, more than triples last year’s number and vaults the company into the closely watched realm of so-called Silicon Valley unicorns, or privately held startups valued at more than $1 billion,” writes Rob Copeland for the Wall Street Journal. “While Allbirds are a staple in the offices of seemingly every technology startup, it isn’t exactly a tech company itself.”



“We’ve never even thought of ourselves as a shoe company,” Zwillinger tells Copeland in an interview from Shanghai, where he was scouting for additional locations. 

“The 37-year old described the company as ‘focused on delivering everyday comfort in a really elevated way,’ and said further products outside of footwear were under development,” Copeland adds.

“With its freshly flush bank account, Allbirds has big plans to ramp up its international expansion efforts, invest in sustainability research and increase its brick-and-mortar presence around the U.S.,” writes Hilary George-Parkin for FN.

“First up? Its debut London location, opening in the Covent Garden neighborhood next week. U.K. customers will also finally be able to buy the shoes online. The new store will be the brand’s third permanent location, adding to those in New York City and San Francisco. (A Toronto pop-up closed in late summer.) For 2019, the company has set its sights on expanding to Asia, as well as opening more U.S. stores.”

But even as it expands its retail footprint, the company is committed to leaving as little trace as possible behind it.

“Allbirds’ founders want to do more than make comfortable, fashionable shoes: They want to actively make the footwear industry more environmentally sound. For instance, the company has made the formula for its sugar-based foam open source, so that other companies can use it. It’s also certified by Proforest, a nonprofit that verifies that raw materials are sourced using stringent protective practices,” writes Elizabeth Segran for Fast Company.

“Comfort, design, and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other,” Zwillinger said in a statement cited by Segran. “Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it.”

Brown, who was a professional soccer player, “had said he planned on opening more U.S. retail stores back when the company secured capital from its series B funding round," writes Anthony Noto for New York Business Journal. “The strategy flies in the face of everything we’re seeing from the big-name retailers scrambling to close storefronts. Sears and J Crew have been closing stores, while so-called ‘e-tailers’ like Allbirds, Warby Parker, Casper, Everlane, Untuckit and Bonobos are opting for physical stores."

Zwillinger, who played soccer at U.C. Berkeley, grew up in Tiburon, Calif., where his father was a professor of psychology. But he has roots in trade: His paternal grandfather “was born in the garment district in New York City and had a shop in his railroad-style apartment on the Lower East Side” where he made uniforms, Zwillinger told Patricia Corrigan of The Jewish News of Northern California in October 2016. 

“My dad is the pivotal person around my wanting to build a social mission of greater purpose, and I suspect having a strong cultural Jewish identity has something to do with it. I’ve always gravitated toward doing something productive from a business perspective that is positive for the environment,” Zwillinger said. 

Previously, he spent six years running the chemical division at a company in South San Francisco that used biotechnology to engineer microalgae to metabolize sugar and convert it into renewable products.

“Zwillinger had recently looked at an old email he had sent Brown as they were forming the company which sketched out some revenue projections. His projection for revenue five years from launch ended up being only half of what it did in its first year,” writes Biz Carson for Forbes.

In March, the company “revealed that it has sold a million pairs of its wool shoes in just two years. That equates to $100 million in sales,” FN’s Barbara Schneider-Levy and Katie Abel reported.

“So either we’ve done really well or we’re really shitty planners,” Zwillinger tells Carson with a laugh.

“Part of it was luck with timing: Clothes have shifted to become more casual, and athletic wear was no longer reserved for times when people were out running or going to the gym. Instead, sneakers became part of their everyday wardrobe and comfort became a premium,” Carson observes.

At a premium price, too, if you compare, for example, the $95 Men’s Tree Runners with the top-selling, often-discounted $65 Nike Tanjun.  

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