Tim Brown’s Allbirds is soaring
Customers all around the world are purchasing Allbirds’s innovative, eco-friendly footwear and apparel. Investors are trading its shares on the New York Stock Exchange since it went public in 2021. And the business, headquartered in San Francisco, has grown to more than 700 employees worldwide.
For a footballer who studied design and who’d never made a pair of shoes before, simply starting was hard enough for Allbirds founder Tim Brown. But using New Zealand merino wool for shoe uppers – an unorthodox, untested material – was even harder, considering the 50-year legacy of fossil-fuel derived synthetic shoe materials the former All Whites captain was up against. But innovation and perseverance are what drives Allbirds. Brown went through hundreds of prototypes before he was satisfied with what would become his maiden product – a pair of breathable, comfortable and durable wool runners that weren’t itchy.
“It was a bad idea for a long time before it was a good one,” says Brown, laughing from the San Francisco HQ.
Football marked his early career ticket to the world. He won a university football scholarship to the US and realised his boyhood dream of playing professional football after graduating from design school. Brown played in the trans-Tasman A-League, including for the Wellington Phoenix, and earned 30 international caps for New Zealand.
His interest in design didn’t fall by the wayside. In reaction to all the free, synthetic footwear he received as an athlete, he doodled an idea for a simple, unadorned shoe made of natural materials. A professor at the London School of Economics, where Brown studied a MA in international management after retiring from football in 2012, encouraged him to run with his idea. Four years later, Allbirds was founded.
Allbirds’s higher purpose
Brown felt he was playing for something bigger than himself when he represented Aotearoa in football, especially at the 2010 Fifa World Cup. But, when it came to Allbirds, it wasn’t until he met Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger, a renewable materials expert from San Francisco, that he unlocked a higher purpose for doing business. Climate change is an “enormous tidal wave” of a problem, yet Brown says society was still grasping its scale and importance when he started out.
This is sustainability worn the world over
Now consumers want to know how they can make a meaningful difference. For the last year, all Allbirds shoes have noted their carbon footprint, giving customers a fuller picture of their environmental impact in the same way that food labels convey nutritional value. Allbirds is also a certified B Corp business, just like we are as we use recycled plastic in all our cards, reduce our own emissions and understand climate risks to businesses.
There right from the beginning
Brown has done things differently and we’ve been there for him from the beginning, watching him grow up alongside his ambitions. He reminisces about the Wellington branch he used to bank at on Marion St – he’d walk down Swan Lane from his apartment on Cuba St, past the famously familiar cafes like Scopa, Olive and Midnight Espresso. And even though he now resides in the US, he still banks with us.
Kiwibank supported me through the early stages of working out life, whether that was buying my first apartment or opening my own accounts, getting my first credit card,” he says. “All those things are a part of growing up.”Tim Brown, Allbirds Founder