Plant-based footwear

February 2022 View more

By Macaila Britton

We “create better things in a better way,” explains Allbirds representative Claire Bright. This company philosophy inspires the footwear brand to approach shoe and apparel designs with the environment at the center of production. The 2014 startup developed quite a cult following in the Bay Area, then online, before going public in 2021. Allbirds recently opened a brick-and-mortar location in Oak Brook—the second of its retail stores in the Chicago area—after selling millions of shoes online. 

Its focus on environmental sustainability doesn’t stop after production. “That philosophy is applied throughout every aspect of our business,” Bright says. In the age of green-washing—where companies claim to pro-environment without doing the work to support it—Allbirds designs systems that support the company’s vision and values for the planet. 

Components of executive compensation (for director-level staff and above) are explicitly tied to an annual carbon emissions reduction target, just one of many ways the company encourages internal accountability toward sustainability targets. Shoelaces are made from recycled plastic bottles, and the tree fiber fabric is sourced from Africa, using 95 percent less water than traditional material like cotton, cutting the manufacturing carbon footprint in half.

The company makes sure its staffers are well-versed on all of this. “Each employee is educated on Allbirds’ sustainable mission and is able to talk to different aspects of the brand’s environmental focus,” says Bright, “including its carbon footprint labeling, natural materials, and recycled packaging.” 

Global philosophy, local footprint
When customers walk into the Oak Brook store, staff members are not just there to sell you shoes—they’re on a mission to help you understand how to make a positive and lasting impact to save the planet through conscious decision making and purchasing. 

“Allbirds was interested in opening up in the Oak Brook space in order to better serve the community and reach a broader group of local consumers,” says Bright. The west suburban store carries the full line of new product offerings, which includes shoes and activewear for all ages. 

A unique storefront
For shoppers unaware of the sustainability strategy and environmental priority behind the company, Allbirds uses visual storytelling to communicate those values to Oak Brook shoppers. There are displays throughout the 2,892-square-foot space that call attention to merino wool, sugarcane, tree, and other materials that are derived from nature and used to make the footwear and apparel. And the design of the colorful store itself is also inspired by the natural world, with custom pine and maple try-on chairs and displays, plus mirrors cut into unique shapes, like the cloud and foot shown above. 

Regardless of the eco focus, the brand proclaims it stocks the “world’s most comfortable shoes,” and now locals can test that theory in a store nearby. 

Photo courtesy Allbirds