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By Carmel Fisher, Managing Director
20 January, 2017
It is such a rare thing these days for products to live up to their hype.
I found one such product over the holiday break — Allbirds sneakers — and have since bought an additional pair for my husband and raved about the merino running shoes to anyone who will listen.
It turns out I'm not the only one pleasantly surprised by this unlikely product. A review of the shoes by Australian publication Business Insider said the wool sneakers from New Zealand — that claim to be the most comfortable in the world — certainly live up to the hype.
After wearing the sneakers (made of a superfine merino wool upper with a rubber and foam sole) for a week, the author declared them "the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn besides slippers — and they are stylish to boot".
This week a favourite financial writer also endorsed the Allbirds sneakers and noted they've become the "unofficial shoe of the financial blogosphere" after a popular blogger tweeted about their style and comfort.
My purpose today is not simply to promote Allbirds (though if there's commission on offer, I'll take a white pair please!). Rather, I enjoy the story of the Allbirds business for a bunch of reasons.
First, I'm a sucker for a good Kiwi ingenuity, NZ-punching-above-our-weight type story.
After his career as an All White (during which he received free shoes designed for top sportspeople), Tim Brown set about designing a comfortable, high performance sneaker for everyday wear.
He wanted to use wool since it is prolific in New Zealand yet the wool industry is in decline. Brown thought wool shoes would stand out and natural materials would appeal to today's consumer.
His marketing approach was old-fashioned — and I love it; produce something that is great quality and people will want to buy it and tell their friends.
A Kickstarter campaign exceeded Brown's expectations with more than $100,000 in pre-orders. That interest was sufficient to garner the attention - and funds - of a number of venture capitalists; the rest is history.
I also like the company's keep-it-simple approach, particularly in today's world where products seemingly have to be brighter, more embellished and with more bells and whistles than competing products to stand out.
Allbirds sneakers don't have swooshes or studs or glow-in-the-dark strips. They don't have a celebrity's name stitched into them and they don't come in a wide range of colours and finishes. They're actually a fairly ordinary-looking shoe.
Maybe that's why they get noticed.
I also like the fact they have built-in obsolescence. The shoes are designed to last as well as other sneakers, despite being made of wool.
There may be some pilling with constant wear but it will likely happen on the inside of the shoe and not detract from the look or comfort. They can be thrown in the washing machine (on the wool cycle) if need be, bringing them back to as-new condition.
Even so, they will need to be replaced after a year or two. That's good news; there's nothing worse than a great product so well designed it doesn't need replacing. Where's the future revenue in that?
As for the future, the business has set its sights on other shoe designs that might work well in wool, like boat shoes.
If they can design comfortable and stylish woollen stilettos, then we'd really be talking!
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