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Allbirds Co-CEO Joey Zwillinger Explains the Marriage of Sustainability and Cultural Relevance at FN CEO Summit

Allbirds co-CE) Joey Zwillinger FN executive editor Katie Abel 2023 FN CEO Summit The Ritz-Carlton South Beach Miami Beach Florida
Allbirds co-CEO Joey Zwillinger (L) and FN executive editor Katie Abel at the 2023 FN CEO Summit held at The Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida.
Justin Namon for Footwear News

A focus on sustainability is critical, but building cultural relevance and creating products that consumers demand cannot be an afterthought.

Yesterday, in conversation with FN executive editor Katie Abel during the FN CEO Summit at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami, Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Joey Zwillinger offered insight into how the brand plans to deliver the shoes today’s consumers desire.

“Consumers buy great products. They don’t buy sustainable ones,” Zwillinger said. “As we see consumers change, and they are rapidly, the filter or consideration set is going to narrow for a lot of consumers. Environmental sustainability is going to continue to be the No. 1 important social value that the vast majority of consumers have, which in the United States certainly has been an increasing trend. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that you need to build cultural relevance and make products that people covet and desire.”

Having made several breakthroughs with eco-friendly innovations, the job of Allbirds now, Zwillinger explained, is to celebrate their uniqueness, have a point of view and build bridges with a vast consumer base.

“We have about 15% name awareness, not even, in the U.S. Only 15 of 100 people would say they’ve heard of Allbirds if you say the name Allbirds,” Zwillinger said. “We have a lot of hellos yet to do, so our journey is both on the awareness building and also bridging that relevance for what we’re doing with culture while also living up to that brand promise we have.”

He continued, “We see an opportunity to look at these innovations and focus those innovations on delighting customers with amazing performance attributes — whether that’s comfort performance or active performance — and make sure it is constrained in a way that allows us to continue down the journey to reduce carbon. By constraining the R&D process, it builds this incredible creativity within our teams and focuses our effort so we delight our customers effectively.”

Zwillinger is confident consumers will appreciate its next highly-anticipated shoe, which the brand announced last month. The Moonshot — which Allbirds writes as M0.0NSHOT — is a shoe that was created with a carbon footprint of 0.0 kg CO2e. At the time, Allbirds said this was achieved without relying on offsets.

“The merino wool in our Moonshot project, which we announced a couple of weeks ago and will reveal in June, it takes elements of regenerative farm wool, it takes waste stream from sugarcane to make a bio-based EVA that we’ve made in collaboration with a green chemicals company down in Brazil, plus other small componentry to make something that is truly zero carbon emissions. That is a beacon for what we know we can do over tracking towards a zero carbon footprint. It is very much possible,” Zwillinger said.

Also, the exec explained the brand’s decision to open source the toolkit behind its biggest innovations for others in the industry to use.

“This is not something we’re going to do on our own,” Zwillinger said. “I would love everyone to get on board.”

He continued, “The singular metric of the lifecycle analysis of the product you make is the singular metric that can guide consumers on how to make decisions based on that attribute, whether they’re better or worse than another competing product. Having this accountability, and having transparency around that accountability down to the product level — and being consistent — is absolutely essential.”

The 2023 FN CEO Summit is sponsored by Aetrex Inc., MakerSights, NuOrder by Lightspeed and Skypad.

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Allbirds Co-CEO Joey Zwillinger on Marrying Sustainability & Relevance
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