When people spend less time outside in the world and more time dreaming when a vaccine arrives, life shoes are gaining only traction.
An obvious benefit is Allbirds, the San Francisco-based manufacturer of comfortable and durable kicks, launched in 2016 and soon became a favorite in Silicon Valley circles before moving elsewhere.
Although the company has seen its activity slow this year due to the pandemic, its products are now available for purchase in 35 countries and its 20 brick shops have died in the United States and Europe, with another place in Tokyo and several shops in China.
Investors clearly see room for more growth. Allbirds just closed $ 100 million in Series E funding. roughly the same $ 1.6 billion valuation was allocated after the $ 27 million closure in Series D funding earlier this year, and white-collar companies have been called in, says co-founder and CEO Joey Zwillinger. He spoke to us earlier this week in a chat that was edited for length and clarity.
TC: Your shoes are sold all over the world. What are your biggest markets?
JZ: The biggest market by far is the US, and the same day we started here in 2016, we also launched in New Zealand, so it’s been very good for us over the last four years. But we have seen growth in Japan and Korea and in China and in Canada and Australia. We have a network of stores around the world that allows us to reach 2.5 billion people [who], if they were so inclined, they could get their product in three days. We are proud of the infrastructure we have created.
TC: We all wear shoes a lot less than we would have expected in 2020. How has that affected your business?
JZ: We’re growing, but certainly not at the same pace we would have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened. We’re mostly digital in terms of how we reach people, but businesses are important to us. And we had to change [those] it has completely gone away and lost a part of our sales for a long time.
TC: Do you have to lay off your employees at retail?
JZ: A large part of our retail force has not been able to work, but fortunately we can keep them fully paid for four months, plus [some received] government benefits if they had this. And now all our 20 stores are up and running again in a way that is totally safe and that everyone feels really comfortable with.
We also donated shoes to front-line workers – 10,000 pairs or about a million dollars.
TC: What has Allbirds up its sleeve, in terms of new offerings?
JZ: We just launched our native mobile app, and through that we can give exclusivity to our most loyal fans. It’s a really cool experience that mixes technology with fashion. You can try shoes on in a virtual mirror; they give you information [about different looks] which you would not otherwise do.
We also launched in April wool-based weather-proof running shoes that have met our expectations but [were fast discovered by] people who have not been running for 10 to 15 years and who are running again [because of gym closures]. It’s a category of super high-stakes and one that’s hard to get into because people buy repeatedly. But we spent two years at it. It’s not like we launched it because of the pandemic. It’s a shoe for distances 5K to 10K – it’s not a marathon shoe or a trail shoe – and we’ve been able to articulate clearly that it speaks to its success, I think.
TC: What about the clothes?
We launched underwear and socks last year in a small launch. We developed a textile that hasn’t been used before – it’s a mixture of tree fiber and merino wool because our opinion is that nature can unlock magic. Underwear is typically synthetic – it’s made of plastic – or cotton, which isn’t a great material for a a whole group of reasons. [Meanwhile] ours is phenomenal for temperature control; it also feels like cashmere.
TC: Patagonia really advertises its social and environmental values. Do you see Allbirds evolving in a similar way, with an increasing amount of offerings?
JZ: I’m incredibly humiliated by it [the comparison]. Given their environmental management of the sales sector, we hope we will be comparable to them. But they’re much more of an outside brand – not a competitor to speak of. And we would love to share more of the sales world with them so we can do our environmental thing together.
TC: You just raised funds. Are you profitable and, if not, is profit in sight?
JZ: We’ve been profitable for most of our lives. Having some discipline while growing up is good. We are not close to the profitability we will eventually have, but we are still a small business in terms of investment. After we get out of the pandemic, we will enter a ramping-up phase.
TC: Everyone and their brother raise money for a white paper company, or SPAC, which can make it much faster for a private company to become public. Have you been approached, and might this option interest you?
JZ: Yes and no. Yes we are close, and no, yes [not interested]. We want to build a great society and being public can be something that helps enable that for a multitude of reasons. But we want to do it at the right time, in a way that helps the business grow in the most durable and sustainable fashion. Just jump in on the occasion of a SPAC without doing the rigorous preparation the way we want, we are not too focused on that