Earlier this week, Barack Obama was spotted wearing a pair of black trainers while on holiday with his family in France. You might have recognized them, because it was the same pair that he teamed with a "44" emblazoned bomber jacket to watch a Duke-UNC basketball game in Toronto in February: 'Wool Runners' from eco-friendly trainer brand Allbirds.
The fact his sneaker choice largely flew under the radar during that viral moment is a testament to the understated nature of the company. Not obviously branded with a flashy logo, Allbirds has become an affordable status trainer for both the style and environmentally conscious. The versatile trainers are often spotted on the likes of Ben Affleck, Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman, and Matthew McConaughey, who owns three pairs by our count.
Flatly priced at £95, their sneakers come in Wool ("Soft & Cozy) or Tree ("Light & Breezy) and are made from materials which are ZQ certified for animal welfare and social and environmental care. They are a B corporation who ship their products in 90-percent post-consumer recycled cardboard, use laces that are made from 100-percent recycled materials, and work with a non-profit to send lightly-used trainers to deprived areas.
The brand first came to people's attention when Leonardo DiCaprio announced he was investing in the company in August 2018, tweeting that they were a company "dedicated to creating a more sustainable future by developing new materials and serving as a model for the footwear industry."
His financial backing wasn't only a noble endeavour but a shrewd business decision, as the company went on to be valued at $1.4bn in October of last year.
For behemoth consumer fashion brands, efforts toward sustainability have usually come in the form of lines made from recycled materials or pledges to reduce waste in the future. Change is clearly afoot, with data reported by the Guardian showing that "in 2018, a third of consumers bought clothing once a month, down from 37% in 2016, while those buying every two or three months or less rose from 64% to 67%."
It's easy to see why. Customers are increasing looking to brands to prioritize environmental responsibility, something that has traditionally been a concern for niche ethical brands or labels for outdoor enthusiasts like Patagonia. Change is clearly afoot, with data reported by the Guardian showing that "in 2018, a third of consumers bought clothing once a month, down from 37% in 2016, while those buying every two or three months or less rose from 64% to 67%." We're witnessing a shift toward slow, sustainable fashion.
New brands are making it a core part of their personality while still appealing to a style-conscious customer base. This includes women's fashion label Reformation, who sell themselves as the second most sustainable option to being naked, and menswear brands like Noah and Everlane. These companies offer customers more transparency about the materials and methods used to make their wares and advocate buying clothes made to last.
While Allbirds are making waves as a sustainable footwear option, the company is keen to wear its credentials lightly. As company founder Tim Brown said in an interview with U.S. Esquire, "It's not something to be proud of; it's something you just do." The low-key branding means you can buy into a brand who consider the environment without proclaiming it to the world.
Indeed, instead of being a shoe for virtue signalers, the first thing most Allbirds wearers are keen to tell anyone who asks is how comfortable the sock-like shoes are. Made from superfine merino wool or Lyocell, their trainers are supportive but very comfortable, so much so you can wear them without socks and throw them in the washing machine when you need to.
Similar to 'technical wear as everyday wear' brand Outdoor Voices, Allbirds have marketed themselves as a lifestyle brand rather than a functional piece of gym attire. The millennial-targeted branding means trainers come in soothing names like Kereru Moonstone or Tuke Jam and posts tagged #allbirds on Instagram are more often of holidays in Cinque Terre than anyone pounding the treadmill.
Allbirds don't make the most fashionable nor the most technical trainers you can buy, but they've nailed being the perfect middle-point between those two pursuits. This with their understated but strong ethical credentials mean they ain't going anywhere soon. Just ask Obama.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.