Footwear maker Allbirds has a new shoe out today. The company's latest design doesn't just refresh Allbirds' casual silhouette, it also utilizes a unique new material—a textile spun from eucalyptus fiber.
Yes, shoes made from wood pulp. The novelty is reflected in the names of the shoes in the new collection. There's the Tree Runner, modeled after a jogging shoe, and a new spin on the low-profile boat shoe, the Tree Skipper. Both are available today on the Allbirds website for $95 in men's and women's sizes.
Allbirds already has two shoe styles and a line of kicks for kids, all of which have uppers made from Merino wool. So while the Trees' wood-pulp construction is a departure from the animal-based textiles the company's known for, it still fits in with Allbirds' commitment to natural and sustainable materials.
The company developed its new textile in-house. It uses eucalyptus tree pulp, which is spun into a fiber then knit into a mesh fabric with the familiar softness and stretch of a cotton-polyester blend. The results are impressive; you'd never guess you're wearing Koala food. Like wool, the eucalyptus textile wicks moisture away from the foot—an advantage in any shoe but especially in Allbirds, which are intended to be worn sockless.
The company sent some sample pairs for me and my colleague to wear. The new Tree shoes are as comfortable as the wool variants, though the uppers appear thinner and feel stretchier. The breathable mesh construction makes them less insulating, though they still have the cozy wool footbed. The Tree Runner is basically the same design as the old Wool Runner, with a four-eye lacing system and a hefty sole. The new Tree Skipper is shaped like a boat shoe, with two lace eyes and a flat sole. The design of the Skipper reads as a bit geriatric, but the wide topline is as summery and breezy as the one on the classic Nantucket slipper that inspired it. There's no Tree version of the lounger yet, but we should expect that soon.
Allbirds is a bit of a darling in the tech industry. The San Francisco company launched its wool running shoe two years ago after securing funding on Kickstarter. Since then, Silicon Valley has embraced the brand. You'll find Allbirds' sneakers on the feet of outdoorsy visual designers, athletic app programmers, and aspiring tech-adjacent professionals (they're as plentiful as MacBooks here at the WIRED office). The appeal is clear: The shoes are handsome, not terribly expensive, and sinfully comfortable.
The company's sustainability story elicits feelings as warm and fuzzy as the wool used in the shoes. Allbirds sources its wool from New Zealand shepherds who practice sustainable and humane farming. It makes the soles from polyurethane derived from castor beans. The shoes even ship in slim cardboard boxes designed to minimize waste and shipping resources.
The new eucalyptus fiber process extends this feel-good narrative. The production process for the woodsy textile uses much less water than the process for cotton or polyethylene, and almost all of the water used in manufacturing the textile is recycled instead of going into the nearest river. The eucalyptus trees that give their lives to make this fiber are also sustainably harvested. Allbirds had the supply chain audited and certified to make sure it was minimizing the environmental impact.
All this adds up to a good-feeling shoe you can feel good about. One important detail: though born of fragrant flora, they do not smell like eucalyptus. Your friends will be disappointed to learn this, but you, the person wearing the shoes all day, should not be.