For the casual and committed runner alike, it’s a tragic but familiar story: after tireless searching, multiple sneaker fittings, and far too much awkward small talk with zealous sales vultures, you’ve finally found “The One,” the Goldilocks of running shoes, that magical pair that fits your feet just right.
You lace up eagerly, float effortlessly through the air during every workout, maybe even snag a PR on that deceptively hilly race course everyone was talking about. By the end of the season, you glance at your worn-down soles, now deteriorated from heavy use, and realize it’s time to splurge on a brand-new, bouncy pair.
But when you waltz into your local running shop and try to secure the same shoe, the salesperson delivers some disappointing news: That model – the one you fell in love with after so much, ahem, sole searching – has been discontinued.
“You can’t buy the version 2.0 anymore, but we now carry the 2.5,” the salesperson tells you. “It’s basically the same shoe, but with a few upgrades.”
Of course, those seemingly minor upgrades are still enough to destroy your perfect shoe. Whether the new features include a wider toe box, a springer cushion, or simply a snazzier style, you bottle up your frustration as your scrunched-up foot, squirming to force itself into the try-on pair, confirms that the shoe no longer fits. Alas, you’re back to square one, and this isn’t the first time.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the saying goes. Why doesn’t this motto apply to shoe companies?
As a decently high-mileage runner, I’ve endured this dance again and again. It seems like every time I replace a shoe, the old model has become obsolete (and I replace my running shoes often). The problem is that the athletic-footwear market has exploded in recent years, so all the industry giants try to compete with each other by introducing more bells and whistles. They cling steadfastly to the philosophy that more is better, even when it’s not.
Call me old fashioned, but why can’t a shoe just be a shoe? Must it strive to become another high-tech gadget? What’s next, a bluetooth-compatible smartshoe? “Alexa, tie my shoes and speed up my cadence.” (Reminds me eerily of that 90s stop-action film, Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers).
Then I stumbled across Allbirds, a more minimalist kind of shoe company. As the story goes, the Kiwi founder and former soccer star, Tim Brown, built his brand on the premise that less is more, that the over-technologization of modern footwear is totally unnecessary. “The thinking behind Allbirds was it would be innovative to do nothing; to strip back a shoe and create something simple and natural,” Brown explained in an interview with Green+Simple. “Sometimes innovation is about taking things away.”
The New Zealand-based company has achieved just that, with a line of footwear and apparel that boasts not just simplicity but sustainability. Unlike the popular, highly corporatized shoe companies that rely on synthetics to build their latest and greatest footwear, Allbirds prioritizes natural, renewable materials like merino wool, eucalyptus, and tree fibers.
Wait, an eco-minimalist brand that stands proudly as a throwback to Mother Nature? Be still, my beating heart (and throbbing foot).
The best news is that Allbirds sells far more than footwear, so you don’t have to relate to the perky power-walkers to enjoy the brand’s apparel. From sneakers to sweatshirts, leggings to loungers, here are our favorite products from this conscientious company:
Okay, this shoe is a runner’s dream. Made from breathable tree material, the Dashers live up to their suggestion of speed with a light cushion, flexible fabric, and a supportive, sugarcane midsole. The pair may not feature the famous Nike carbon plate, but they’re durable and carbon-neutral. This way, you’ll be leaving your footsteps on the trail with only a small footprint on the planet. As one reviewer commented, “They are the MOST comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. At the end of the day I don’t want to take them off!”
These cozy shoes are layered with castor bean oil and Merino wool for an extra-cushioned insole, while the midsole is made with bouncy sugarcane SweetFoam – a material that’s carbon-negative! The material is moisture-wicking, too, so you won’t have to worry about your feet getting soaked in the rain. These shoes are so versatile and stylish that, as one reviewer noted, “they have a look of Chucks that have been updated, and they provide some arch support.” Ah, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a throwback to my comfy, old-school Converse!
Of course, we all have those days when we’re feeling more Netflix-and-chill than crush-some-speed-drills. These laceless Loungers, made from temperature-regulating Merino wool, slip right on and off for those easy Sunday mornings. As one reviewer wrote, stepping into the Lounger is “like slippin’ into the very nest of the amazing Allbird. Good fit, hugs my foot. Warm, not hot.” Sounds like a gentle foot massage, except these shoes will last you much longer.
If the Loungers feel like a foot massage, then the Fluffs feel like a foot massage with paraffin wax. This version of the Lounger shoe is made with Merino wool inside and out, designed to keep your feet warm on especially chilly days. Most reviewers praised the Fluffs for their comfy insulation, with one commenter writing, “They’re warm and cozy but comfy and functional for doing things on my feet around the house at the same time. I always have cold feet so warm but functional slippers are a necessity!” Make sure you order soon, though – the Fluffs are a limited-edition shoe!
Now that you’ve secured your sneakers, how about some stretchy shorts? These moisture-wicking shorts are made from a mix of sustainable materials including Merino wool and recycled nylon. The fabric is so light and breathable that you can breeze through your next workout or fly through your next run. The best part? These shorts have pockets! “Great for hiking, running, or other outdoor activities,” one reviewer confirmed.
This tank-and-legging set is perfect for the gal who likes to break a sweat (but not the planet) regularly. Both the tank top and leggings are made from sustainable materials like eucalyptus tree fiber and Merino wool. The outfit wicks sweat from your skin and dries quickly, so you’ll stay cool and comfortable even during your hardest workouts. Said one reviewer, “These felt so good the minute I pulled them on! I have never felt comfortable in athletic leggings before. But I didn’t pull at them or feel self conscious. They’re really great!”
Women’s R&R Sweatshirt And Sweatpants
Of course, you’ll want to curl up in a cozy outfit to relax and recover from your workouts. This sweatshirt-and-sweatpant set is super-soft and made from a blend of organic pima cotton, hemp, and Tencel fibers. Whether you’re stretching your legs by the fireplace or meeting your friends for a casual brunch, the set will keep you warm throughout the winter months. And with the carefully designed crew neck and slim fit, the outfit “fits like a dream, feels like a hug.”
Made in Peru, the sea tee is soft, breezy, and sustainable with its mix of eucalyptus trees, Merino wool, and even crab shells that reduce odor. This snug, stylish tee also features contrast-stitched side seams and a larger rib neck trim for an extra-flattering fit, with an embroidered logo on the sleeve to complete the classic design. As one reviewer commented, “I love the soft stretchiness of the Merino wool. It absolutely does not itch! Feels like velvet next to your skin.”
What winter wardrobe is complete without a pom beanie to punctuate the look? As always, this beanie is made from 100% Merino wool and feels soft and cozy, not scratchy and itchy. With every accessory from the Allbirds shoes snuggling your feet to this warm hat hugging your head, you can take a deep breath and get ready to go – because you’re sustainable and stylish from head to toe!
How are you shopping sustainably this season? Which Allbirds products are your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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