.Allbirds’s Wool Runner sneakers are a hit among tech workers. The problem? They don’t last very long. Pictured: my pair of Allbirds, purchased & delivered mid-January of this year. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance
Walk the streets, halls & open offices of Silicon Valley, & you’ll notice many tech workers wearing them: Allbirds’s Wool Runner sneakers. But the merino wool-made sneaker, which debuted to much fanfare in March 2016, has a problem: they simply don’t last.
“Wearing Allbirds is like wearing slippers everywhere,” said one startup founder, who likes the comfort they offer because of the materials used & relative lack of structure. “But wearing them every day comes at a cost: I chew through a pair at a rate of every 4-6 weeks, after which I have to buy another.”
Jonathan Yaffe, CEO & co-founder of software maker AnyRoad, echoed that sentiment.
“The liners inside obtain worn down really quickly,” Yaffe agreed.
At $95 a pair, the Allbirds Wool Runners don’t come cheap. In fact, they’re nearly twice the price of some tried-and-true Converse Shoes. But they’ve gained a foothold among the technorati, a hoodie-loving culture that prizes comfort over looks on any given day & has the disposable income to spend on it.
Founded by Tim Brown & Joey Zwillinger in 2015, the San Francisco-based Allbirds was created with the mission of innovating upon everyday footwear, a segment of the shoe market Brown & Zwillinger viewed as crusty & stagnant.
Nike, for example, would just put its signature swoosh on subpar shoes made overseas, Brown complained to Business Insider last May.
So Brown & Zwillinger, who have raised at least $10 million in venture capital-backed funding to date, emerged with the Wool Runner, a sneaker employing a proprietary wool & nylon blend they say helps minimize foot odor & wicks away moisture while making sure your feet don’t obtain too hot. Even better: should the sneaker obtain dirty or smelly, cleaning it is a matter of simply tossing it in the washer & air-drying. As a result, the sneaker that calls itself the “world’s most comfortable shoe” exceeded first-year revenue projections by five-fold, Allbirds told Yahoo Finance.
But the apparent downside to that proprietary wool & nylon blend seems to be a serious one. Half a dozen members of the tech community Yahoo Finance spoke to for the purposes of this story reported a love-hate relationship with their Allbirds Wool Runner & find themselves purchasing new replacement pairs every two to three months.
While the Wool Runners may be the most comfortable shoes they’ve ever worn, they just don’t last. It’s an issue I learned with a pair of my own after wearing them nearly every day for just six weeks. While they’re perfectly comfortable — the “world’s most comfortable shoe” moniker isn’t wrong — the lack of structure means I now look like I’m traipsing around San Francisco wearing dark, lumpy, misshapen mounds of wool on my feet.
“Allbirds is committed to making better shoes in a better way & a key part of that is listening to the customer to create continuous improvements & upgrades to the Runner — the brand’s signature style,” an Allbirds spokesperson told Yahoo Finance. Since the sneakers debuted last year, the spokesperson said, the startup has consistently made improvements to them, including reinforcing the tongue to reduce tearing & curling, reinforcing the toe lining of the shoe, & redesigning the sole for flexibility & to reduce waste.
That may be true, yet it’s clear Allbirds still has room to improve. Silicon Valley may not mind ponying up $95 for a pair of shoes that doesn’t last, yet the rest of America might not have that kind of money.
JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech & business. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
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Source: “JP Mangalindan”