Brand of the Year

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - By PETER VERRY


In a com­pli­cated sneaker land­scape, the San Fran­cisco startup has found suc­cess by keep­ing things sim­ple and down-to-earth — lit­er­ally.

All­birds made a quiet en­try into the sneaker mar­ket in 2016, launch­ing its eco-friendly la­bel un­der the di­rect-to-con­sumer model and finding a fol­low­ing among the Sil­i­con Val­ley crowd. How­ever, the brand turned up the vol­ume this year, trans­form­ing from a com­pany with a cult fan base to a leader in sus­tain­able footwear.

In March, All­birds hit a big mile­stone, an­nounc­ing it had sold 1 mil­lion pairs of its sig­na­ture wool sneak­ers in two years. But co-founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwill­inger weren’t rest­ing on their lau­rels: The same day of that an­nounce­ment, they had a new eco-friendly prod­uct ready to go: shoes made with tree fiber. And in Au­gust, All­birds added an­other en­vi­ron­men­tal in­no­va­tion with its Sweet­Foam soles, which are made from re­new­able sug­ar­cane sourced in Brazil.

Zwill­inger told FN that All­birds’ relentless in­vest­ment in re­search and de­vel­op­ment is made pos­si­ble by keep­ing its greater busi­ness model sim­ple. For in­stance, the brand’s shoe as­sort­ment is slim, and trans­ac­tions are done di­rectly with con­sumers. “The fo­cus of sell­ing only one shoe in the first 14 months of our busi­ness was a real ad­van­tage; there was no pres­sure to con­stantly change,” added Brown.

How­ever, the com­pany did in­tro­duce a new facet to its busi­ness in 2018: brickand-mor­tar re­tail. With a solid e-com­merce foun­da­tion al­ready in place, All­birds opened its first branded stores this year in two of its best-per­form­ing re­gions state­side, New York and San Fran­cisco. The la­bel also opened a door in Lon­don along with an on­line store to sup­port the mar­ket.

“It was the first time we launched with both brick-and-mor­tar and e-com­merce. We learned that in some mar­kets, hav­ing that phys­i­cal pres­ence is a state­ment say­ing, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ in a much more sig­nif­i­cant way than just open­ing an e-com­merce plat­form,” ex­plained Zwill­inger.

“They want to cre­ate shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ences that are most con­ve­nient for shop­pers. Some prefer to shop purely on­line, some prefer to go to stores, and some prefer both,” said Warby Parker co-CEO Neil Blu­men­thal, who serves on All­birds’ board. “The beauty of a di­rect-to-con­sumer busi­ness is that they’re able to de­sign all of those ex­pe­ri­ences for all the cus­tomer pref­er­ences.”

Mov­ing for­ward, All­birds’ ex­pan­sion will be fu­eled by $50 mil­lion in Se­ries C fund­ing led by T. Rowe Price In­vest­ment Man­age­ment that the com­pany se­cured in Oc­to­ber. (Prior to this, All­birds had re­ceived a to­tal of $27.5 mil­lion from other in­vestors, in­clud­ing ac­tor Leonardo DiCaprio.)

De­spite its rapid progress, All­birds (which em­ploys 175 peo­ple) is still a small brand in a mar­ket­place dom­i­nated by ma­jor ath­letic and de­signer play­ers. Rec­og­niz­ing this, the com­pany linked up with re­tail gi­ant Nord­strom on a pair of lim­ited releases this year, in­clud­ing hol­i­day Wool Run­ner col­or­ways avail­able now ex­clu­sively in the depart­ment store.

“We felt like the trade­off was great — Nord­strom gets to share a new, up-and­com­ing brand that no other re­tailer gets to show­case, and on the flip side, we get ac­cess to and raise aware­ness with their whole cus­tomer base,” Zwill­inger said.

But he said there are no plans to fur­ther ven­ture into whole­sale. In­stead, the duo is eyeing ad­di­tional All­birds-branded brickand-mor­tar ex­pan­sion in 2019. Now that the brand has a phys­i­cal pres­ence in the U.S. and the U.K, the com­pany has plans for eight more stores next year, with Chicago and Bos­ton set to open in the first half of 2019, fol­lowed by doors in Los An­ge­les and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.


Joey Zwill­inger (L) and Tim Brown in their San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters

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