The direct-to-consumer brand plans to launch its first products made from the more sustainably farmed fibre within the next year, and will work with existing suppliers to meet its goal to shift sourcing entirely by the middle of the decade.
The commitment reflects fashion’s mounting interest in farming practices that could help brands meet ambitious environmental targets; regenerative agriculture is geared to restore biodiversity and soil health, allowing more carbon to be drawn down into the soil and vegetation in the process.
Emissions reduction is a key goal for Allbirds in particular. The footwear brand already employs an offsetting programme that helped it become carbon neutral in 2019. More recently, it’s introduced a carbon “calorie count” for its most popular products, creating public accountability for its efforts to reduce impact. The focus on sustainability is seen as a value driver for the brand, whose valuation recently hit $1.7 billion, with signs pointing to IPO preparations.
The new commitments target Allbirds’ most resource-intensive natural material: Merino wool accounts for about a quarter of the natural materials the company uses but 80 percent of emissions related to natural materials, according to Allbirds sustainability manager Hana Kajimura.
The ambition to change its sourcing practices supports efforts to ensure the company’s wool supply is carbon neutral — another 2025 target.
“If our goal is zero emissions ... we need to imagine that materials can be carbon sinks,” said Kajimura.
It’s an attractive idea that is gaining increasing traction within the industry. But significant investment will be needed to shift farming practices at scale and ensure the changes are really achieving the promised results.
The company plans to build on an existing programme with two VF Corp-owned brands, Icebreaker and Smartwool, and shared wool supplier New Zealand Merino. It currently reaches 167 sheep farmers representing 2.4 million hectares of land.
Kajimura said Allbirds will invest in both incentivising farmers to make the switch to regenerative agriculture and collecting more data to develop “a tighter definition on what counts.” The exact size of the company’s investment has yet to be determined.