As people’s work, life, and entertainment begin to merge, especially with the increasing number of companies and practitioners in the field of new technology, these people’s past dressing habits are being abandoned, and people tend to pursue a comfortable and straightforward dress idea. Create an environmental protection concept, meet consumer demands, and insist on material innovation, enabling the sports shoe brand Allbirds to embark on a unique fashion path.
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Business Opportunities Brought by Wool
Using wool to make shoes is an idea that the founder Tim Brown (in the future referred to as Brown), was brewing long ago.
Before founding Allbirds, Brown was a professional football player in New Zealand. There are many benefits for athletes, one of which is that they often receive a variety of shoes, especially from their sponsor Nike.
However, Brown soon discovered the problem: Over the years, high-performance shoes and fashion footwear have made significant progress in innovation and design, but the sports and leisure shoes worn daily have not made many breakthroughs. Especially the striking brand logo on the shoe surface looks like a “walking billboard.”Yes, most shoe manufacturers think so.
After realizing this shortcoming of shoe production, Brown sprouted the idea of creating a casual sports shoe by himself. Fortunately, Brown had previously studied at a design university with a football scholarship. This learning experience helped him realize his dream of designing shoes.
Brown soon thought of using New Zealand’s specialty wool as the upper fabric. At that time, many shoe suppliers had never been contacted. “At that time, I was inspired by the cooking concept of from farm to table’. I found that the sports shoe industry rarely uses natural fabrics because they are troublesome to handle. But in fact, natural fabrics have many advantages over artificial fabrics. For example, wool has natural antibacterial and deodorant properties, and its Breathability and touch are much better than artificial fabrics.”（private label shoe manufacturers in China XinDesheng are very skilled in this shoemaking technology）Brown is trying to change the current situation where there is no renewable environmentally friendly material in sport’s shoes. Wool is renewable, in his view, Biodegradable natural environmental protection materials. He believes that applying environmental protection materials such as wool will considerably change shoe manufacturers and the sports shoe industry.
This idea made Brown decide to start Allbirds, a company with the concept of “producing the most comfortable sneakers in the world.” In 2010, after retiring from the team, Brown plunged into sports shoe fabric production for research and visited many shoe suppliers to find out. It wasn’t until 2014 that Brown made his debut on Kick Starter, a startup incubation crowdfunding platform, that he was relieved. Brown raised $119,000 in crowdfunding.
The crowdfunding process was not smooth, and Brown has also encountered investors who disapproved of this model. At that time, many shoe suppliers didn’t understand this shoe at all. In the eyes of many people, although they recognize the prospects of this market, sports shoes are already a mature industry with many competitors, which is not an ideal track. However, wool, a brand-new sports shoe material, made some Silicon Valley investors vote for it. Some shoe manufacturers began to notice the business opportunities.
According to a report by Forbes, after Allbirds was launched through crowdfunding in 2014, this idea almost immediately touched the nerves of popular culture. Many shoe manufacturers are also following the trend and continue to develop shoemaking technology.
The success of the debut gave Brown the capital to hire Joey Zwillinger (after this referred to as Joey), a renewable materials entrepreneur in San Francisco. The addition of Joey makes Allbirds a startup company that can genuinely use the new fabrics for practical operations.
Brown and Joey finally decided to use merino wool, excellent wool with a diameter of 12.5 microns, as the raw material for sports shoes. Joey said that from the prototype to the final product, they had done countless experiments on the strength and flexibility of merino wool, including testing temperature regulation and perspiration. This is also in the process of private label shoe manufacturers in China XinDesheng’s shoemaking process until it succeeds.
The two founders took “Passion” as a keyword. In their view, based on the core goal of “creating comfortable shoes,” while not being limited to conventional experience, is the main reason why Allbirds is unique enough. Many shoe manufacturers are becoming more aware of this from the orders they receive.
“Market insight” is always the first step in consumer product entrepreneurship. The two founders realized that as people’s work, life and entertainment began to merge gradually, significantly as the number of companies and practitioners in the new technology field increased, these people abandoned the past dressing habits. People tended to Pursue a comfortable and straightforward wearing concept, Zuckerberg’s constant gray hoodie has become a topic that also illustrates this point.
Therefore, in the first stage, Brown’s product definition is a pair of comfortable enough shoes to adapt to different scenarios.
In March 2016, Wool Runners (runners wearing wool) was born; it looks very attractive-wool uppers made by Italian shoe manufacturers, plain and simple appearance, only 95 US dollars price, can be thrown away The feature of machine washing in the washing machine… There is another unique feature of Allbirds’ first show product, that is, the shoe does not have the massive logo of ordinary sports shoes; only the bird-like pattern on the tongue and heel can be faintly recognized its origin. After reading some shoe manufacturers, they frankly said that this is one of the simple shoes they have seen so far.
This “low-key” does not hinder the popularity of Wool Runners. Wool Runners not only won tens of millions of dollars in investment but also unexpectedly became the darling of Silicon Valley. Many shoe suppliers have also begun to study its production methods. Many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists posted photos of them wearing Wool Runners on social media. Brett Jackson, who once worked for the American casual shoe giant Crocs and later served as the general manager of venture capital funds, is one. He is not only one of the investors of Allbirds but also its number one fan. In July 2016, Jackson posted a graphic on Twitter: “I just finished my ten-day trip to Spain. I only took my Allbirds and walked 270,000 steps in it.”
“We turned Wool Runners into a visual symbol,” Brown said. Some people in the industry even assert that in time, Allbirds will become the standard dress code for people in Silicon Valley, just like the hoodies and T-shirts of the year.
Only rely on two products to make the world
Why can Allbirds stand out in the sports shoe industry of masters like forests?
Allbirds initially focused on online sales, cutting off the “agent” link between the brand and the user. But compared to the title of “e-commerce,” it is more like a technology company, which can be seen from its business philosophy.
First of all, Allbirds has always been adhering to the concept of “sweet fire and slow cooking,” and its product line can be described as minimalist. Allbirds has only two product lines divided into the “Wool” series and the “Eucalyptus Tree” series in terms of raw materials. The brand’s renewal of products is mainly done through color matching. For example, Wool Runners, three years have passed since its launch in March 2016. Another brand should have sold it out, but Wool Runners is still on the Allbirds official website for $95.
Why can Wool Runners live so long? The secret is to “patch.” Allbirds changed the iterative logic of past consumer products, allowing consumers to participate in the evolution of products. In the first 14 months of the business, Allbirds had only one product for sale on its official website. The team continued to iterate the product based on user feedback, such as basic shoe shape adjustments, material optimization, etc. To ensure that the iteration was fast enough, Every batch of Allbirds makes the shoe suppliers’ production quantity very small, and this production habit continues to this day. “Customers once complained that the internal label of the Wool Runners shoe tongue was uncomfortable. When the product was changed, We changed this label after discussing with the shoe manufacturers .” Joey said, “The two products of the Wool series have been improved 27 times since they were launched. In addition to making consumers pay more attention to the brand in these links, the brand can also more fully state its “story” and strengthen its brand image more proactively.
Secondly, Allbirds is also very good at using social media to “build momentum” for itself. In the “Internet Trend Report 2018”, Allbirds was listed as one of the “most responsive” brands.
In March 2016, Allbirds launched a sky blue limited edition men’s shoe called Kotare Sky. This pair of shoes also attracted a large number of women. They rushed to leave a message on Allbirds’ Instagram account, requesting an increase in women’s size. After investigation, Allbirds chose one of the female netizens named Susan, and she responded and promised that she would provide the female size in the next batch of production. The shoe manufacturers quickly shipped a batch，which also won several fans for Allbirds.
Insist on material innovation under competition
The success of Allbirds caused a wave of wool sneakers.
In the winter of 2017, Austrian footwear brand Giesswein launched wool running shoes; Italian luxury brand Zegna also launched wool sneakers; Nike added wool to some styles of Air Max and Air Jordan sneakers; Converse and clothing brand Woolrich co-branded The fleece version of canvas shoes was launched; Adidas also added fleece to the explosive Ultra Boost sports shoes. In 2018, a wool shoe company called “Neeman’s” emerged in India. It is based on Australian merino wool. Like Allbirds, it adopts a simple style and focuses on online sales channels.
The popularity and application of merino wool in sport’s shoes have pushed up its price by the relationship between supply and demand. In 2017, the price of merino wool per kilogram rose to 14 US dollars (about 94 yuan), an increase from 2016 of 56%. In January 2018, the price of merino wool per kilogram exceeded RMB 100, increasing 30% over 2017. Will Cox, chairman of the Information Committee of the International Wool Spinning Organization and well-known wool economics expert, said that solid demand meets low output, resulting in today’s high prices. The shoe suppliers also said that the raw materials of wool shoes are indeed more expensive than other shoes.
Allbirds wool sneakers are priced at $95 per pair, in the same price range as Nike, Adidas, and other well-known brand sneakers in the United States. The outside world regards it as a strong competitor of Nike and Adidas, which has brought a “catfish effect” to the industry. But the two founders have different views on this.
“In the United States, the value of the footwear market has reached 80 billion US dollars, and the average American buys eight pairs of shoes each year. However, the trend of the footwear industry is changing rapidly, and we also need to make more adjustments.” Joey said, ” We see ourselves as a material innovator.”
“Our goal is more than just a wool sports shoe company,” Brown said: “Our goal is to continuously discover new materials, through innovative technology, to design the world’s most sustainable and environmentally friendly shoes.” In 2017, Allbirds Increased the categories of children’s shoes. They expanded the target customer group, but the founders of the two companies agreed not to innovate in shoe styles but to focus on expanding shoe materials. It has more and more shoe suppliers, and its production line is also expanding, looking for suitable shoe materials from all over the world.
In 2018, Allbirds released two new materials and shoes made with them. In March, “Eucalyptus fiber” was launched, which copied two styles of wool shoes, running shoes, and casual shoes, and the price was also US$95; EVA extracted from petrochemical raw materials, made into a green carbon-negative slipper, is priced at $35. Popular colors were sold out on the day that slippers were released. The shoe suppliers are too late to produce.
In February 2019, Allbirds launched a more feminine shoe, Tree Breezer, for women. It looks like ballet shoes on the surface. The upper is made of soft fabric made from eucalyptus plants. The sole is made of Sweet Foam, a patented material made from sustainably sourced sugarcane; on August 13th, a new material, socks called Trino, is on the market. The new material is a mixture of merino wool and eucalyptus material and recycled bottles.
Enter the Chinese market
Regarding the entry of Allbirds into China, people’s most significant interest is: Does Allbirds’ product concept adapt to the current mainstream consumer trends in China?
In the eyes of the two founders, the current Chinese consumers and Allbirds’ core user base in the United States have a lot in common. When making a breakthrough in the United States, Joey realized that the trendy natural materials and environmental protection concepts in Silicon Valley do not make ordinary consumers purchase behavior. Leonardo, The driving effect of celebrities such as Emma Watson, and Time magazine’s evaluation of “the most comfortable shoe in the world” made by Allbirds.
Joey revealed in an interview, “Many Chinese tourists spend in Allbirds stores in the United States, and we see the long-standing consumer demand of Chinese consumers.”
Brown and Joey’s play in the Chinese market can be summarized in three points: one is to benchmark Shanghai against New York; the second is to use “fashion lifestyle” as the market keyword; the third is to find “Smart People.” Brown believes that Shanghai is already quite similar to New York in terms of consumption habits and behavior.
In terms of channel strategy, Allbirds chose to go online and offline instead of gradually transitioning from online to offline as they did in the United States. Joey believes that the product concept or quality that the Allbirds brand wants to convey is difficult to achieve solely through online content, and offline is an excellent path to “reaching users.” Allbirds invested heavily in offline stores in China and formed a 25-person Shanghai team with retail coverage covering all channels: In February, Allbirds opened the official Xiaohongshu and WeChat public accounts; on April 6th, it opened in Shanghai. Taikoo Hui opened its first store in China and customized a Shanghai city series for consumers in Shanghai. It is limited to 500 pairs and is only available in Xingye Taikoo Hui stores. At the same time, Allbirds Tmall flagship store entered the trial operation stage, and China’s official website and WeChat official account were also officially launched. Allbirds has a lot of “ambition” for the Chinese market.
On the other hand, China has a large consumer market and a large shoe suppliers market. Nowadays, although China’s labor costs have increased, the long-term development of the shoe industry has also given Chinese shoe suppliers a superior shoemaking experience. With shoemaking technology, I believe that more and more consumers have gradually realized that the quality of shoes from different production lines is different, and the Chinese production line must be the better one. For example, XinDesheng private label shoe manufacturers in China have mastered making wool shoes very proficiently and are constantly improving. Sometimes it can even provide some details that the brand can’t think.
The prospect of wool shoes
First, in terms of objective conditions, wool shoes have three significant advantages: Breathability, lightness, and sustainability, and there are more and more Merino wool shoe manufacturers. This has laid a solid foundation for the development prospects of wool shoes:
The most significant advantage of wool shoes is their warmth relative to weight. Shoe manufacturers generally love this feature. This fabric has this space between its fibers to absorb heat, making it warmer than other similar weight fabrics. This is why Merino shoes can keep your feet warm in cold weather. But merino shoes are no longer only suitable for winter. Nowadays, this fabric is used to make warm-weather shoes, and this is for a good reason. Merino wool has a natural moisture-wicking ability, which helps keep your feet dry at all times. It turns out that the most concentrated area of sweat glands is in the soles of the feet. In other words, you sweat more through your feet than through any other part of your body. However, Merino wool can take moisture away from the feet by absorbing moisture into its fibers. The moisture then penetrates the fabric and evaporates to the outside, keeping your feet dry.
When you try on merino wool shoes, you will first notice that they are very light. This makes them comfortable to wear without having to bear the additional weight. There are many ways to reduce the weight of shoes by Shoe manufacturers. For example, the sole of the Giesswein Merino Runner weighs only 46 grams, while the weight of the entire pair of shoes is 200 grams. In contrast, Adidas Parley Primeknit shoes weigh 907 grams (2 pounds).
If you are an ecologically conscious person, you will appreciate the sustainable properties of this fabric. Merino wool is renewable, recyclable, and can be produced organically.
Second, as we all know, sustainability is increasingly being valued by major brands. The problem of waste of resources in footwear was raised as early as the 1990s. Nike, a world-renowned footwear shoe manufacturer, was the first footwear company to launch a sustainable development project. They did grind the old collected shoes into the plastic particles used to pave the track. Since then, there have been more developments in the environmental protection of the footwear industry, but solving the problem of discarding shoes is still one of the current problems.
Similarly, producing a pair of running shoes requires an average of 14 kg of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to burning a 100-watt light bulb for a week. It is not difficult to conclude here: the waste of shoes is related to the space benefits of landfills. It involves manufacturing processes in the shoe industry and significant shoe suppliers that do not conform to sustainable development. Allbirds has implemented this concept very well. Its upper is made of Merino wool, which can be organically degraded. This is especially true for another Austrian shoe brand Giesswein. The upper is made of Merino wool, and the sole is made of merino wool. It is a Carbon-reduced EVA material, a decomposable material, does not pollute the environment much, and implements sustainability well. Therefore, according to this idea, wool shoes will become more and more popular in the future footwear market. There will be more and more wool shoe suppliers, which can also promote economic development. Environmental protection and economy coexist, there is no doubt.
Not only environmental protection but also represents innovation. We can also see some possibilities from some industry trends: Nike has added wool to some styles of Air Max and Air Jordan sneakers, and also cooperated with clothing company Pendleton to launch wool sneakers; Converse and clothing brand Woolrich Jointly launched a wool version of canvas shoes; Adidas also added wool material in the explosive sports shoes Ultra Boost. In addition, luxury brand Ermenegildo Zegna also launched a merino wool sneaker priced at $525; Austrian shoe brand Giesswein also launched wool running shoes in the winter of 2017. In the future, wool may become a conventional material for sports shoes and apparel products and become a necessity for shoe suppliers.
According to Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD, sports brands need new elements and selling points to stimulate the consumption of sneakers. The freshness of wool material and its advantages may attract many unconventional and brand-conscious consumers. The increase in demand for wool in the sports shoe industry has also driven up the price of wool. “It can only rise, not fall,” Stuart McCullough, CEO of Australia Wool Innovation Ltd., which supplies 90% of the world’s garment wool, said in an interview with Bloomberg.
We still have a long way to go in the future for the excellent development and sustainability of footwear and the natural environment, but the dawn has already appeared. I believe that as long as we stick to it and make shoes with heart, the brand’s popularity will no longer be a secret.
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