Allbirds gets a kick out of disrupting shoe design

Tony Fontana
Retail Gets Real
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Growing up in New Zealand — the “land of sheep” — opened Tim Brown’s eyes to the benefits of merino wool and inspired him to use the material in footwear. He and Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger worked with growers who produce the highest quality wool to engineer a material specifically for shoes. At Allbirds, “extraordinary comfort” is the focal point, and the natural fiber’s sustainability appeals to the company’s largely Millennial fan base.

This week on Retail Gets Real, Zwillinger discusses how the digital startup is disrupting the long-established footwear industry with direct-to-consumer marketing. Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures co-hosts this episode from NRF’s ecommerce conference in Los Angeles. 

Joey Zwillinger (center) joins co-hosts Jesse Draper (right) and Bill Thorne (left) at

Joey Zwillinger (center) joins co-hosts Jesse Draper (right) and Bill Thorne (left) at

Allbirds launched with the insight that people work much longer hours than they used to, with lines blurring on work versus leisure time. Zwillinger says that fashion has evolved to keep up with this new lifestyle — women’s leggings, for example — but footwear has not. A pair of Allbirds fills this niche with aesthetic comfort, allowing the wearer to transition from work to lunch to travel and even a light workout.

“Maintaining the direct-to-consumer approach puts a burden on us to actually have our own physical footprint for retail stores,” Zwillinger says. To allow for the tactile experience of trying on a new shoe, Allbirds opened two stores in San Francisco and New York City. Ecommerce allows the company to keep the shoes at an approachable price point, but “we don’t differentiate between offline and online,” Zwillinger says. “We’re happy to serve the customer where they are.”

Listen to the episode to learn how the company finds the “finest” sheep to make the luxurious material, and leave a review on your favorite podcast app. To learn more about, read the official recap.

Tony Fontana is one of NRF’s co-hosts on Retail Gets Real. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.