Otago Daily Times

All­birds aim­ing for ever less car­bon

- AIMEE SHAW Business · Climate Change · Ecology · Consumer Goods · Greater Auckland · New Zealand · Newfoundland and Labrador · Canada · Adidas · Allbirds

AUCK­LAND: New Zealand­founded, US­based woollen shoe com­pany All­birds is ex­pand­ing its en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly man­u­fac­tur­ing to ap­parel.

The San Fran­cisco head­quar­tered com­pany, co­founded by for­mer All White Tim Brown, is gear­ing up to launch a cloth­ing line of T­shirts, jack­ets, jumpers and knitwear, to add to its grow­ing footwear, socks and un­der­wear busi­ness.

It will ini­tially launch its cloth­ing line in New Zealand with a range of T­shirts.

Ear­lier this year, All­birds com­pleted a $100 mil­lion cap­i­tal­rais­ing as part of its plans to launch into new prod­uct cat­e­gories and ex­pand its port­fo­lio of 21 bricks­and­mor­tar stores.

It has spent the past two years work­ing on ma­te­rial in­no­va­tion for its ap­parel, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing a yarn spun with chi­tosan, a fi­bre de­rived from crushed snow crab shells found in New­found­land, Canada.

Its Tri­noXO Tee T­shirts are said to re­quire fewer washes and have a 20% lower car­bon foot­print com­pared with a stan­dard polyester T­shirt.

Talk­ing to The New Zealand Her­ald ex­clu­sively, Mr Brown said the ex­pan­sion into main­stream ap­parel meant the com­pany had brought its R&D team over from its footwear divi­sion and hired ad­di­tional staff to lead the cloth­ing de­sign.

‘‘Mak­ing shoes and mak­ing ap­parel is com­pletely dif­fer­ent; there’s de­sign tal­ent, pro­duc­tion tal­ent, new sup­ply chains; and we were not just look­ing for a new fac­tory, we’re look­ing for the abil­ity to meet our eth­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, which are quite rig­or­ous, and that takes a lot of time,’’ Mr Brown said.

All­birds fo­cuses on car­bon as a met­ric to judge its suc­cess and is on a mis­sion to cre­ate footwear and ap­parel with the low­est­pos­si­ble car­bon out­put.

It spends a large chunk of its time de­vel­op­ing sus­tain­able fi­bres that can be used through­out the tex­tile in­dus­try.

The com­pany found its feet in 2016 us­ing New Zealand merino wool and sugar cane to make its shoes, and sold its one mil­lionth pair of sneak­ers just 14 months after launch.

Ini­tially, Mr Brown said, he ques­tioned whether the world ‘‘needed an­other T­shirt’’ but said All­birds’ in­no­va­tive ma­te­rial that it had trade­marked was the an­swer to that.

‘‘We’re not mov­ing away from footwear — it’s still the vast ma­jor­ity of our busi­ness, we’ve still got a lot to learn there, but we’re de­vel­op­ing pretty deep ex­per­tise in that space — but with the ad­di­tion of socks and un­der­wear, we started to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties of tak­ing the brand fur­ther.’’

Mr Brown said All­birds would con­tinue to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture to build a sus­tain­able sup­ply chain that en­abled it to make prod­ucts with net­zero or as close to zero car­bon as pos­si­ble.

The com­pany launched its first run­ning shoe dur­ing the mid­dle of the Covid­19 pan­demic, and while the out­break had an ad­verse ef­fect on the busi­ness, Mr Brown said it was in a strong fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and was con­tin­u­ing to open more stores.

‘‘The busi­ness has been re­silient and I think we’ve had the good for­tune of be­ing a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated brand with a vast ma­jor­ity of our sales in a dig­i­tal e­com­merce con­text. We were luck­ier than many go­ing into it and we’ve seen the busi­ness weather the storm re­ally well.’’

All­birds uses cer­ti­fied car­bon off­sets in the short term to pay to make the busi­ness, ev­ery part of the sup­ply chain, and ev­ery em­ployee’s trip to work, ze­ro­car­bon.

The com­pany has es­sen­tially im­posed a tax on it­self for car­bon it emits, to drive down its foot­print. It also in­cen­tivises its ex­ec­u­tives — through bonuses — to find new ways to re­duce the firm’s car­bon foot­print and more ef­fi­cient ways to make the prod­ucts.

‘‘Hope­fully, oth­ers will join us in this idea of trans­parency and shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and our ma­te­ri­als will be­come the new nor­mal so we can tackle cli­mate change with greater speed.’’

He be­lieved the pri­vate sec­tor was not do­ing enough to com­bat cli­mate change — or to op­er­ate as sus­tain­able en­ter­prises.

‘‘We’ve got to get car­bon emis­sions un­der con­trol, and one of the beau­ties in this very dark time of Covid is we’ve seen a global com­mu­nity rise up and tackle this prob­lem . . . It gives you a lit­tle bit of hope be­cause the same level of col­lab­o­ra­tion and part­ner­ship and ur­gency is go­ing to be re­quired to tackle cli­mate change,’’ he said.

‘‘Ev­ery busi­ness can and should be mea­sur­ing their car­bon foot­print, us­ing off­sets as a short­term mea­sure and then in­no­vat­ing to drive that num­ber down. Busi­nesses that pre­pare that now are go­ing to win in the long run.

‘‘This prob­lem is so ur­gent, and while it’s fan­tas­tic to see the busi­ness round­table come to­gether and re­de­fine the idea of stake­holder cap­i­tal­ism, and many busi­nesses and coun­tries much big­ger than ours make mean­ing­ful and im­por­tant pledges for 2040 or 2050, what can we do right now?’’

He said he hoped other busi­nesses fol­lowed All­birds’ lead in its race to drive down car­bon emis­sions and de­velop sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses.

‘‘We’re dis­clos­ing our emis­sions and they’re greater than zero and there­fore that’s not good enough, so we’ve got to work harder.

‘‘. . . [car­bon emis­sions] are a data point that helps con­sumers make health­ier de­ci­sions. Hope­fully, our car­bon num­ber ini­tia­tive will do the same.’’

In May, All­birds teamed with Adi­das to cut 700 tonnes of CO2 emit­ted by the footwear in­dus­try by in­no­vat­ing their man­u­fac­tur­ing with tech­nol­ogy and re­new­able ma­te­ri­als.

The pair plan to de­velop a sports per­for­mance shoe with the low­est yet car­bon foot­print. — The New Zealand Her­ald

 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES ?? All­birds has had a fo­cus on us­ing sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als in its merino wool shoes. It is set to ex­pand into ap­parel.
PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES All­birds has had a fo­cus on us­ing sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als in its merino wool shoes. It is set to ex­pand into ap­parel.
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