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Tim Brown & Joey Zwillinger

Founders, Allbirds

The pair launched what has been dubbed the “world’s most comfortable shoe” using sustainable Merino wool.


Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger are the duo behind label Allbirds, which uses wool to create sustainable footwear.

Creating a product that Time magazine dubbed “the world’s most comfortable shoe” took years of research and experimentation, where Brown developed a 16-micron merino wool fabric from New Zealand, which is now spun by Italian manufacturer Rena — a company that has also supplied wool-based fabrics to Gucci, Tom Ford and Hugo Boss .

In 2014, Brown, a former football player in New Zealand, launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $120,000 of start-up money in five days. This allowed him to create a prototype of the trainer.

Joey Zwillinger, a biotech engineer and renewables expert from San Francisco, joined him soon after, helping to raise $2.7 million in seed funding leading up to Allbirds’ launch in 2016. By 2018, Allbirds had raised $27.5 million from venture capital firms such as Tiger Global Management and Maveron, and also boasts Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor. The brands has five US-based stores and one in London.

Now based in the Bay Area, from the beginning simplicity has led the aesthetic of Allbirds shoes. "Our whole approach to design here is about simplicity, stripping things away," Brown told Fashionista in 2016. "That sort of approach, the un-design approach, of anonymous luxury, is the very core of what we think about.”

Sustainability is at the heart of the company, which only uses materials with a low carbon footprint — the wool requires 60 percent less energy to produce compared to traditional synthetics used in footwear, and castor bean oil is used to create sustainable polyurethane insoles.

Allbirds also developed packaging that uses 40 percent less material than traditional shoeboxes. With a ZQ certification for merino wool, the company is also a certified B-Corporation. They have partnered with Soles4Souls, a not-for-profit charity that provides global relief through donated shoes and clothing.

In August 2019, it was announced that Allbirds would make a move into apparel with sustainable socks made from new material Trino, a mixture of the Merino wool and eucalyptus tree materials used in the brand's footwear.

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The people shaping the global fashion industry, curated by the editors of The Business of Fashion, based on nominations and on-the-ground intelligence from around the world.