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September 25, 2019

Along Came Allbirds

Jordan Deters

Author @Sterling

September 25, 2019

Along Came Allbirds

“Challenger Brands” are the latest buzzword, causing concern for traditional brands who refuse to evolve or innovate. But, what does a Challenger Brand even mean? How do you identify one? Look no further than the shoe choices of your fellow commuter the next time you’re on the subway.

Goliaths like Adidas and Nike, who have been around the block a time or two with 60-70 years of experience, are now being faced with a (not-so-new) challenger in the shoe game – Allbirds.

What’s unique about Allbirds is that, unlike other direct to consumer brands, they’re not selling convenience or a free trial. Consumers are buying the product because they love the quality and what the brand represents.

It’s no surprise that the shoe category is a tough one to break into. Allbirds met the challenge head-on by changing the game rather than playing it. The tough category can be attributed to a few factors…

  1. Understanding the human foot is no easy feat. Brands like Saucony have developed high-tech stride labs to understand consumers’ body movements and determine the best shoe fit. Brooks has partnered with HP to create 3D foot scanning to develop personalized footwear. These examples are just some of the more recent. High-performing technology and shoes have been heavily intertwined with the goal of perfecting footwear for quite some time. (runners world).
  2. Allbirds conquered a challenge many footwear brands have been investing in for a long time by taking a back-to-basics approach. They were able to achieve comfort by leveraging natural sources (sheep wool) rather than tech gadgets.
  3. Every occasion requires the perfect shoe. In many of our closets we have shoes that we wear to work, shoes that we wear to a work out class, shoes that we wear on a run and shoes that we wear to the grocery store, etc. Rarely, with the exception of the notorious Stan Smiths of 2014, do these shoe’s overlap in function. In turn, this makes specificity and performance a necessity for brands in the category.

Allbirds has created a shoe solution that can truly adapt to various occasions. Consumers have bought into the brand’s lifestyle mindset and simple design. While they wouldn’t wear it with formal dress, they’re proud to rep the shoe whether it’s at work or a work out.
Shoes and sustainability don’t easily go hand in hand. The shoe category has an enormous carbon footprint as many individuals throw out worn shoes leaving them to decompose in landfills – a process that can take more than 50years (Business Green). Shoe brands are being challenged to take action in the category and change this – many have poured money into innovation to create more sustainable footwear options. Brands like Adidas have even explored creating shoes out of ocean waste (Business Insider).

Allbirds has gone above and beyond making products out of sustainable materials, while also partnering with SolesforSouls to make sure their shoes find proper homes within communities and the environment.

Ultimately, Allbirds represents what a challenger brand should be. A brand that not only challenges the category but also the way we think. It uses customer insight, strategic vision and a little gut instinct to build a demand for something we all want but didn’t even know existed – and a good product certainly doesn’t hurt.

If you have a free afternoon, I would definitely recommend trying on a pair – don’t be surprised when you find yourself joining the flock.


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