• Fashion

Allbirds founder, Tim Brown on creating his revolutionary footwear

Meet the man behind the minimalist runners loved by Emma Watson and Barack Obama  

Style and comfort are rarely used together to describe cutting-edge fashion, however entrepreneur and co-founder of Allbirds shoes Tim Brown begs to differ.

His vision of  a minimalist line of runners made from eco-friendly materials is refreshing in an otherwise logo-filled sea of synthetic footwear. The creations, which are fast becoming a go-to shoe for Barack Obama, Emma Watson Oprah Winfrey and Mila Kunis are made from sustainable materials like Merino wool from New Zealand and eucalyptus fibre with textured laces made with recycled post-consumer materials such as plastic bottles.

“We’ve made an equivalent product [to other shoe manufacturers], but in a better way environmentally, that’s our brand, our the mission and a non-negotiable for us,’’ he says.

It began on the soccer field in 2008 when Tim, then a professional football player for the Newcastle Jets in NSW, began to realise his never-ending supply of sneakers from his sponsor was “totally unnecessary”.

“The thinking behind Allbirds was it would be innovative to do nothing; to strip back a shoe and create something simple and natural. Sometimes innovation is about taking things away,’’ he says.

“We saw an opportunity to innovate by using natural materials and in doing so create a simple shoe that’s more comfortable. People don’t buy sustainability, they buy good products and that is what we hope we are achieving.’’

Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown
Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown

Here’s more of our chat with the New Zealand born, San Francisco-based designer.

What does Allbirds mean?

When people first arrived in New Zealand there was nothing there – it was all birds. It’s our way of referring to our desire to tread more lightly.

Do you really have a shoe made from eucalyptus trees?

We do! We’ve used 3D imaging to take eucalyptus fibre and its cooling properties which are perfect for sweaty feet and create a running shoe.

Did you have experience in designing shoes before you began Allbirds?

No! The very first factory we found made the men’s and women’s shoes the same size. It turns out making shoes is very hard. But we had the courage to keep going. We’ve made 27 changes to the wool runner since then.

Favourite sustainable brands?

KowTow is a great New Zealand brand and Patagonia has blazed a trail. Reformation is a good one in the States – the way they message and tell the story of how they’re trying to do it better is inspiring.

Do you have a sustainability muse?

Eric Ryan, one of the co-founders of Method. He was the first person we came across with the thinking – people don’t buy sustainability, they buy great products.

How would you like to see our spending habits change?

I would like not to change it! I’d like to see more great products with quality craftsmanship that are sustainable and ethical. An example is the Tesla car, what is so cool is you think about it being cool, not that it’s electric.


Allbirds Gray runner
Allbirds Gray runner
Allbirds grey lounger
Allbirds grey lounger

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