Allbirds is on a mission to make things better in a better way, and their journey has only just begun. Here, RLI spends some time with Travis Boyce, Head of Global Retail Operations to learn more about the company that has created an entirely new category of shoes inspired by natural materials.
Based in San Francisco and with roots in New Zealand, the company Allbirds began through the curiosity of Co-Founder Tim Brown and the question of why merino wool, a sustainable resource, was practically non-existent in the footwear industry. Teaming up with Joey Zwillinger to explore this gap in the footwear market, the Allbirds journey began.
Since launching five years ago, the business has grown from one store in San Francisco to a global portfolio of 22 locations across countries including the US, UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. In addition, the company website ships to 35 countries.
Discussing the market conditions faced after the last 12 months, Travis Boyce, Head of Global Retail Operations at Allbirds, explains that as a certified B Corporation, their commitment to sustainability remains more important than ever and they recognise the need to stay laser focused on their mission to reverse climate change through better business.
“In terms of retail strategy, we’re confident in the role that retail plays and have plans to increase our number of stores this year, as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic. Physical retail gives us opportunities to story tell around our novel natural materials by creating a tactile and educational experience – this remains a priority for us.”
Throughout this period, ensuring the health and safety of their global team and their customers has been their number one concern and they are proud of the way that everyone has come together to support one another in these challenging times.
Despite the challenges Covid-19 has presented, the brand still opened seven new stores, including one in Tokyo, their first store in Japan and their second store in London’s Marylebone, following the success of their Covent Garden location which launched in 2018. The most recent store opening took place in Philadelphia.
In the coming months, continuing to expand the retail footprint in the US is a primary focus, as well as eyeing up opportunities internationally – an example of this includes the launch of a flagship store in Seoul – for which there is great excitement amongst the whole team.
In terms of product launches in the near future, a $2M investment in material innovation company, Natural Fiber Welding has just been announced. This will result in bringing a 100 per cent natural, plant-based leather alternative to market. They call it Plant Leather and they are very optimistic about its potential.
“While we’re eager to keep expanding and bringing sustainability to more wardrobes around the world, we’re purposefully intentional when it comes to our retail growth. Leaning into local insights and identifying the right neighbourhoods are important to us. It’s key that we can provide exceptional customer service wherever we land, coupled with an exciting in-store experience.”
At its core, Allbirds is an innovative materials company and they are on a continuous pursuit to source, develop and invest in natural materials that will help them tread lighter on the planet. They believe that carbon is the ultimate scorecard for measuring environmental impact, and carbon reduction is the single most important solution in tackling climate change.
“As we race to become carbon negative, we’re investing in many initiatives that will help us get there. Last year we started labelling all our products with their carbon footprint and this year we’re announcing a commitment to regenerative agriculture practices that will help to sequester carbon emissions,” explains Boyce.
The company launched as a digital-first brand, so e-commerce has always been a key part of the business. Last year they launched their Allbirds App which allows their US community to get a feel for the products through a virtual ‘try-on’ experience, gain access to app-exclusive products and choose where they invest in carbon offsets. The goal is to meet the customer where they would like to be met, and to do this, they are continuing to integrate their channels to ensure a seamless experience no matter where the customer engages them.
From its inception, the Co-Founders identified a need for a sneaker that was simple in design, stripping back flashy logos and unnecessary details. They were also fuelled by an insight that people don’t buy sustainable products, they buy great products, and so they set out to create footwear made from merino wool, eucalyptus tree and sugarcane that customers love for their comfort, performance and style. This philosophy still stands today and the positive reaction from their community has meant that word-of-mouth is also a key driver in the success of the company.
“At Allbirds we talk about climate change as the greatest challenge our generation, but unlike the pandemic, it’s not going to go away anytime soon – we need to start taking action now. We’re throwing everything we have at solving this global problem, instead of waiting for a silver bullet and we’re excited to continue innovating and collaborate with industry peers to make a widespread positive impact,” Boyce concludes.