When Allbirds set out to reinvent footwear in 2014, it couldn’t have anticipated that its shoes would become a staple in the modern eco-conscious person’s wardrobe. Its signature sneakers, made from Merino wool, have sold more than a million pairs around the world. Barack Obama wears Allbirds. Oprah Winfrey wears Allbirds. So does Larry Page, and seemingly every other person in Silicon Valley. The juggernaut of success has driven the company to expand its menu, from slippers and high-tops to shoelaces made from recycled plastic to a line of children’s shoes, adorably named Smallbirds.
But along the way, the Allbirds team noticed something surprising. “Very early on, we realized that about half of our customers were wearing our shoes without socks,” says company cofounder Tim Brown.
Brown says wearing Allbirds with or without socks is a matter of personal preference. (“I wear them with socks,” he says; cofounder Joey Zwillinger doesn’t.) The company even advertises them as shoes that can be worn sockless; wool naturally regulates the temperature of your feet and wicks away moisture, keeping your feet comfy and dry. Or so Allbirds claims. Experience in the real world suggests that wearing the shoes without socks can leave one’s feet “soggy and smelly and sad.”
Arielle Pardes covers personal technology, social media, and culture for WIRED.
Last year, Allbirds debuted a new material, made from eucalyptus tree pulp, to remedy what Brown refers to as the “suboptimal experience” of wearing wool shoes in the summer. While developing the new fiber, the company had another idea: Why not make more than just shoes?
Now Allbirds is dipping its toes in the apparel market with its first non-shoe product: socks. They’re made from a new proprietary yarn called Trino—a blend of the company's existing Tree and Merino fibers—and are meant to keep your feet sweat-free, whether you're wearing Allbirds shoes or not. Brown says the company spent 18 months developing the socks; they wanted them to be the best socks.
“It would’ve been easy to white label it and make them out of cotton, but we’ve gone back and thought about how socks are made and how we could make the absolute best version,” Brown says. “It’s about our commitment to doing things in a different way, because we believe we can.”
The socks come in three cuts: “hiders,” a $12 no-show sock; “tubers,” a $16 classic crew sock; and “quarters,” a $14 in-between style. Like Allbirds’ shoes, the socks come in sunny colors like “waterfall” and “canary.” The socks' fibers also incorporate recycled plastic water bottles; Allbirds claims they are 100 percent carbon neutral, as part of its ongoing commitment to creating sustainable products.
Do socks really need to be “disrupted”? Perhaps not. But don't expect Allbirds' apparel ambitions to end there. Imagine what else the company could make with its new wool-and-eucalyptus blend. Sweatpants? Stocking caps? Footie pajamas? Whatever it is, we'll all be wearing it soon enough.
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