Facts are facts: there are nearly 30 million sheep in New Zealand.
That’s a lot of wool.
With such large numbers of, er, ruminants, there’s plenty to go around – or at least that’s part of the logic a former All Whites skipper is undoubtedly banking on with his new footwear.
Tim Brown announced the public launch of his company Allbirds’ first shoe, the Wool Runners, this past Wednesday.
Ok, great. Another shoe. As if there weren’t five million out there already.
But unlike other shoes, these have some real Kiwi ingenuity behind them – that is, if the fact they’re made out of merino wool from New Zealand sheep and partially developed with the help of a Kickstarter campaign is anything to go by.
Brown and cofounder Joey Zwillinger, a biotech engineer and renewable materials expert, spent more than two years perfecting the shoes, which are designed in partnership with Auckland designer Jamie McLennan. Over US$2.7 million was raised to launch Allbirds, much of which came from New Yorkbased venture capital fund Lerer Hippeau Ventures. High-profile investors including Ben Lerer (co-founder of digital media company Thrillist) and David Gilboa (co-founder of online eyewear company Warby Parker) have also pitched in.
“Today we’re ready to start changing the way the world thinks about shoe companies,” says Brown.
Following his retirement from football after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Brown began to focus more on starting his business. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to produce a test version of the Wool Runners. Going by the name Three Over Seven, he reached his target in four days, raising $70,000 and selling 500 pairs.
Funding secured, Brown then teamed up with Zwillinger to improve the shoes’ construction and introduce additional sustainable materials, such as a vegetable oilbased polyurethane insole.
Woven in Italy, it’s claimed that the shoes “create an unparalleled comfort and wear experience” that Brown – who relocated to San Francisco, California in October 2015 – swears by.
“We have a design philosophy centred on simplicity and the use of innovative natural materials,” he says.
Launched simultaneously in New Zealand and the United States, the shoes come in a variety of colours in styles for both women and men. They come with a 30-day trial – a bit of a novelty when it comes to footwear, given what shoes are used for – and retail for $158 (US$106).
So will these shoes go the distance in the marketplace? That remains to be seen, but it seems doubtful they’ll outrun – pun intended – the reserves of sheep available.