Imagine the coziest of sweaters, made from superfine merino wool sourced from a small farm in New Zealand and spun at a prestigious Italian mill, that’s cashmere-like in softness. Now imagine it wrapped around your feet. This, my friends, is the shoe your tootsies have been waiting for—the Wool Runner by Allbirds, available online starting March 1.
The luxe sneaker was started by founder Tim Brown, a former professional New Zealand soccer player, who, prior to repping the Kiwis in the World Cup, went to college for design. When he began dreaming up shoes on the sidelines, his native instinct kicked in: “There are 30 million sheep in New Zealand,” he says. “Wool wicks moisture, is breathable, and sustainable.” But the fabric he had in mind that would be footwear-appropriate didn’t exist yet. So he applied for and won a $250,000 grant for R&D, which led to the innovative proprietary textile used in the Wool Runner today.
Allbirds cofounders Joey Zwillinger (left) and Tim Brown, wearing the Wool Runner in charcoal.
Made for both men and women in four classic colors each, the shoe features a litany of other exclusive design elements and sustainable features that make it stand out in a crowded casual market—aspects bolstered by fellow cofounder, biotech engineer Joey Zwillinger, who has had a rich career in sustainable materials and renewable energy. The upper material is made from the aforementioned textile, which utilizes premium ZQ Merino-certified wool, a standard of both quality and ethics pertaining to animal welfare, environmental care, and social sustainability. This attaches to an insole of castor bean oil-based polyurethane (a super sustainable renewable material) that’s also lined with the plush, woolly stuff. On the bottom, the sole consists of a proprietary blend of rubber and EVA foam polymer that reduces raw material usage and weight while being incredibly comfortable. Since there’s no leather to be found, the shoe’s carbon footprint is minimized, and smart, high end design significantly simplifies the labor involved.
In layman’s terms, the Wool Runner got my incredibly pregnant feet to Chicago and back just last week with nary a discomfort; in fact, traversing SFO and enduring the inevitable swelling at 30,000 feet was a positively plush experience that I credit to the fabric’s incredible stretch and supreme softness. They’re just as delicious strolling around Dolores Park or upgrading your morning commute. “It’s designed for that hybrid space between work and play—it has performance elements, but it’s made to feel really good,” says Brown.
As of today, the FiDi-based company is selling the Wool Runner exclusively through their site, enabling a very attractive $95 price point without the middleman markup, though they hope to eventually open a retail component in town. They also plan to expand with different styles (rumor has it that a slip-on is inevitable), and they’ve got the backing to do so—Allbirds counts the CEO of fellow direct-to-consumer success story Warby Parker among its investors. Also like WP, their business model has a charitable bent: in accordance with their 30-day guarantee, they’ll donate any returned shoes to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that battles poverty by distributing shoes globally to those who would otherwise go barefoot.
Again, sweater on feet—see for yourself.