Last week, the digitally native sustainable shoe brand dropped its first-ever running sneaker designed to rival the likes of Nike, Adidas and other titans of performance. Though the name “Dasher” might recall one of Santa’s mythical sleigh drivers, the new $125 Allbirds shoe is very much grounded in reality—and in nature.
To come up with a product that checked all the boxes for sustainability and performance, Allbirds “dipped back into nature’s laboratory” to identify components that eschew the industry’s traditional reliance on oil-based plastics and other planet-polluting components “that have dominated the market for decades,” said co-founder and clean-tech engineer Joey Zwillinger.
Tim Brown, the former footballer who co-founded the San Francisco startup with Zwillinger in 2016, suggests that natural materials offer some inherent advantages to their man-made counterparts.
“For too long, the performance industry told us that athletic footwear meant synthetic footwear,” he said. “By failing to make the most of what’s right in front of us—nature—we’ve missed some of the greatest performance materials in existence. Our multi-year journey to create the Dashers demonstrates what’s possible if we put the kind of innovation muscle into natural materials that’s usually reserved for petroleum-derived synthetics.”
Fans of Allbirds will find many familiar ingredients in the Dasher’s material makeup, like the sugarcane SweetFoam midsole offering “maximum cushioning and energy return” that Brown says “provides just the right amount of stability and cushion for a casual run.”
The knitted sock upper blends eucalyptus and merino wool, regenerative performance materials that are among the hallmarks of Allbirds’ “signature comfort experience,” Brown added. “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of our journey to show that nature belongs in great performance products.”
The Allbirds performance shoe, offered in men’s and women’s sizes in four limited-edition color ways, also includes a castor bean foam insole with a contoured foot bed further stabilizing the foot from one stride to the next. Naturally derived rubber, rather than its synthetic alternative, forms the outsole and helps to minimize signs of wear.
The Dasher, Brown said, marks “another big step forward in our approach to natural material innovation.”
Competition in the performance running footwear space has intensified in recent months, with Nike’s Vaporfly Next% carbon-plated marathon shoe igniting an intense international brouhaha that ultimately forced World Athletics to arbitrate the growing furor. There’s little sign, however, that Allbirds is angling for domination in the high-stakes world of sponsored sports. Capturing everyday runners who care about their pastime’s planetary impact might be victory enough, as the sustainable shoe makers continues to push its unwavering eco-first message with the “Run Hard. Tread Light” tagline.
Still, Allbirds put the Dasher through the paces prior to launch. Zwillinger says the product was “designed by running shoe experts with over 50 years of combined experience in biomechanics and footwear design.” Allbirds, he added, has been “overwhelmed by the positive and feedback in lab trials and from wear tests on runners in the wild.”
Known for slapping a carbon tax on itself, Allbirds remains committed to producing footwear that helps, rather than hurts, nature. Because they pull from responsibly sourced ingredients, “the Dashers have the potential to actually absorb carbon, rather than emit it,” said Jad Finck, Allbirds vice president of innovation and sustainability.
“That simply isn’t possible with traditional plastic, even if it’s recycled,” he added.
There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest some quarantined consumers are breaking from their socially distant confines to pound the pavement in search of some much-needed fresh air, which could give the Dasher a boost. But so far, the numbers on actual sales data aren’t very encouraging.
“While articles are reporting that more people are running outside since they can’t/won’t go to the gym to work out, thus far NPD data does not show any lifts in running shoe sales,” Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president, senior industry advisor, sports, wrote in his March 31 Sneakernomics blog post. “In the week ending March 21, running shoe sales were down by nearly 70%.”