Now, you can literally wear Allbirds head to toe.
The sneaker brand’s debut clothing line includes ultrasoft merino sweaters, eucalyptus-filled puffers, and T-shirts made from discarded crab shells.
; and in June, it took its first step beyond footwear with a line of underwear.Now, you can literally wear Allbirds head to toe. Its debut clothing collection launches today with four items: a merino wool puffer; a T-shirt made with XO, an antimicrobial treatment made from discarded crab shells; and a crewneck and cardigan in super-plush merino. If clothes seem like a departure for a “sneaker brand,” cofounders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger say they always planned to expand into the category. “We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we’d be an innovation company first, and a product company second,” Zwillinger says. “And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don’t have to compromise on the planet for amazing products.”
Photo: Jerry Buttles / Courtesy of AllbirdsAdvertisementBrown and Zwillinger said the clothes were a few years in the making, and most of that time was spent on material innovation—i.e., the crab shell treatment—and driving down each item’s carbon score, a sum of the materials, packaging, shipping, and other impacts. The chunky cardigan, for instance, has a carbon score of 22.4 kilograms (compared to the 7.2 kilograms of the label’s Wool Runners, the 12.5 kilograms of a traditional sneaker, or the 29.6 kilograms of a pair of jeans). Zwillinger added that the lofty merino yarn has a 17.5 micron diameter, “which is pretty much the lowest you can go before you get into cashmere territory”—and yes, it really does feel like cashmere.
The women’s XO-treated T-shirt, which is cut from a thin, drapey merino-eucalyptus blend, has a carbon score of just 6.3 kilograms. It’s one of the first apparel items ever treated with XO, a by-product of the seafood industry and a natural alternative to the extractive minerals often found in antimicrobial clothes, like silver. Brown points out that the T-shirt won’t need to be washed as often as a result; the same is true of merino, which is known for its odor-resistant, temperature-regulating properties.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Brown and Zwillinger opted against neon prints and trendy silhouettes. “When you’re innovating at the yarn level like this, it takes an enormous amount of time,” Brown says. “So we tried to focus on the key items that are important for your day-to-day, and bring relentless design iteration and focus. There’s a lot of detail in these very, very simple things, and I hope the results reflect a level of care and thoughtfulness.”
Photo: Jerry Buttles / Courtesy of AllbirdsAdvertisementFor many Allbirds fans, the care and quality (and friendly prices) will be more than enough to justify the purchase. But the process of creating this capsule sparked bigger ambitions for Brown and Zwillinger. As they developed the puffer and weighed their options for materials and components—metal or recycled plastic zippers, down or synthetic fill—they also gained a new clarity in the natural-versus-synthetic conversation. “It can be challenging because certain natural materials actually have a higher carbon impact than recycled plastic,” Zwillinger says. “But through this journey with apparel, we’ve come to the conclusion that using plastic [in any form] is a fool’s errand. It’s never going to get us where we need to be, and there’s always going to be a net-positive carbon impact. But the opposite can be true for natural materials.”
Enter:regenerative agriculture—more specifically, regenerative merino sheep farms. Allbirds is now working with 100 farms in New Zealand to implement regenerative, organic practices that will in turn sequester carbon from the atmosphere, which will in turn drive down the carbon scores of items produced with that wool. “It’s been one of our most profound findings,” Zwillinger continues. “And we aren’t just thinking about New Zealand wool, but more broadly across different crops. We’re convinced that this is the path where society can win, and where we can make great products that have a great impact.”
The bigger picture, Brown says, is that Allbirds’ carbon scoring and regenerative agriculture efforts have made sustainability a “foundational constraint” for the company. They’ve changed the way Allbirds items are designed, where its materials are sourced, how its renewable energy is utilized, and on and on. In a word, it’s been transformative. “This idea of carbon as a unifying metric and a design constraint is extraordinarily exciting,” Brown says. “I think it’s something we’ve started to lay out in these first few items.”
Now, his hope is that other brands will follow Allbirds’ lead. Since it launched its carbon-scoring initiative in April, Unilever and Logitech both announced they will start labeling their products—which include Dove soap and headphones, respectively—by their carbon footprint. By 2021, it’s easy to picture many of our favorite brands doing the same: scoring their products, investing in regenerative agriculture, and maybe sharing the stories of who made their clothes too. As Brown says: “The more that happens, the better off we’ll all be.”
Photo: Jerry Buttles / Courtesy of AllbirdsVogue RunwayA daily recap of the biggest runway news, latest trends, and emerging designers.Sign Up Now Read more: Vogue Magazine »
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