Allbirds is growing up. The direct-to-consumer start-up filed its first trade dress infringement lawsuit in the Northern District of California against Steve Madden, claiming Madden’s “Traveler” women’s sneaker copies its signature wool runner.
Both lace-up sneakers are made with fabric uppers, woven shoe laces and embroidered eyelets—a combination Allbirds claims is an identifiable and unique signature of its brand.
The Steven by Steve Madden style, which retails on Macys.com for $89, is made with a merino wool upper. The Allbirds sneaker ($95) is made with the brand’s exclusive woolen textiles created by a mill outside of Milan. The shoe boosts odor-minimizing, moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating, itch-free and dirt-resistant benefits.
Despite selling just two styles—the runner and the slip-on lounger—Allbirds is on track to generate $50 million in sales in 2017. However, co-founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger believe copycats from giants likes Steve Madden could damage the sustainable narrative they’ve created.
In September, Brown told VAMP, “We’re making the best shoe that we can, and we’re making it as sustainably as possible.” The company sources from the ZQ-certified New Zealand Merino Company, meaning it is top of its class in terms of sustainable practices, land use and animal care. Allbirds’ wool requires 60 percent less energy to produce than the average synthetic shoe material, while the brand’s insoles use natural castor beans in place of polyurethane.
In an interview with Business of Fashion about the lawsuit, Zwillinger said the company received a phone call from Steve Madden’s chief executive Edward R. Rosenfeld before releasing the women’s “Traveler” sneakers last month, “well in advance of this, asking how the business was going and what not, before we knew that they were going to rip us off.”
Brown added, “A billion dollar business has taken a stab at our very livelihood and mission that we are on, and we felt like it was wrong.”
Steve Madden has not released a statement about the suit.