Boston is just as much a sneaker town as it is a town for runners, historians, and die-hard sports fans. But if you’re looking for a shoe that’s both good for the environment and sustainable the San Francisco-based shoe company Allbirds is quite mindful about both. Its first Boston store is nested right on Newbury Street and swings its doors open to the public today.
The three-year-old company was founded by Tim Brown, a native of New Zealand and former soccer player, and his partner Joey Zwillinger, an engineer and renewables expert, who took advantage of the plentiful wool industry in New Zealand where there are over 30 million merino sheep.
“The fashion industry is one of the largest contributing problems to carbon emissions,” he says. “We saw this opportunity in wool and to make shoes that are better for the environment and sensibly designed. And we’re not just doing it because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes for a better product.”
Allbirds shoes are made more for lounging and walking around town in than hitting the gym or logging miles. A store employee laughs while she helps me try on a pair of their signature shoes, the wool runner, that they’re more for walking to a workout class than actually doing said workout in. The wool runner is soft and light and feels almost like wearing a sock. It comes in a lounger, slip-on, style as well. When I met with Brown he was wearing a pair of the black tree runners, which are made from eucalyptus trees, making for a more breathable material. This material comes in a high-top version, boat shoe style, and a lounger as well and all their shoes can be worn without socks.
“Because we’re not changing the designs all the time we’re able to update our current styles based on customer feedback and focus on making them really, really well,” Brown says. “If we can find a way to put a man on the moon we can find a way to make a pair of shoes more sustainable.”
When you pull the doors open to the pretty generous store-front on the corner of Exeter and Newbury, you’re not pulling on a traditional door knob but rather an abstract figure of a foot. And then as you step into the space, bathed in natural light, the walls are lined with carefully displayed shoes, laces, and window boxes with the materials they use to construct shoes including wool, recycled plastic bottles, and sugarcane. Small chairs, ergonomically designed specifically for trying on shoes, are clustered in three’s throughout. There are even deconstructed pairs of shoes and textiles hanging on the walls so you can touch and feel everything.
The retail space was designed to bring the online experience offline (and vice-versa), Brown tells me. Everything in the space is light, playful, and completely Instagrammable. And he says each of their five storefronts have specific features, like the color scheme, that nod to the heritage of the city. In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate red, in Chicago it’s ivy green from Wrigely Field, and here in Boston you can spot Green Monster green, brownstone brown, and blue from the Charles River.
And in traditional sneaker fashion, the company will roll out a special limited-edition Boston Marathon shoe and is hosting a series of events the day of the race. You can also be on the lookout for product releases that will be exclusive to the Boston retail store.
As for the name? Brown chuckles when I ask and says when people first came to New Zealand there was nothing but birds. “Hence, it was all birds.”
205 Newbury St., Boston, allbirds.com.
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