The secret to super-comfortable new shoes is citrus peels

Allbirds are super comfortable shoes that have long used smart technology to provide lightweight, flexible and extremely attractive footwear. Now, the company has launched Plant Pacers, an alternative to leather. Allbirds can be understated, but that understated quality has helped them succeed as the best shoe in Silicon Valley.

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Leading identities, they say, from Larry Page to Andreessen Horowitz’s Ben Horowitz, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and Barack Obama reportedly own a pair. Part of the reason for the popularity is the company’s commitment to sustainability.

Tim Brown, former vice-captain of the New Zealand football team, won a research grant from the wool industry in his country to develop a sneaker. In 2014, things got off to a flying start with the Kickstarter launch: as Brown explained to Footwear News, “The thing blew up. We sold $120,000 worth of shoes in four days.” By October 2018, he had become a unicorn, with a reported valuation of around $1.4 billion. Listed on NASDAQ in November 2021 under the symbol BIRD.

Brown teamed up with biotech engineer and renewable energy expert Joey Zwillinger with the goal of creating “better things in a better way.”

Thus, the materials used were always chosen with sustainability at the fore, with merino wool being inherent in its first product, the Wool Runner. But sometimes there were also surprising ingredients. For example, it created its own SweetFoam, which is used in shoe soles and is derived from sugar cane. And the lanyards are made from recycled plastic bottles. There is recycled nylon in some products and TrinoXO in others, which contains chitosan, made from crab shell. Seriously.

Take out the foam insole—you have to remove that and the laces when you put the shoes in the washing machine to clean them—and you might be interested to know that what you’re holding is a merino wool and castor oil-based material .

So the logical last step is for Allbirds to create a skin alternative. But where some rivals used plastic skin (or, in that horrible spit-sounding word, pleather), Allbirds used Mirum, in partnership with NFW, which stands for Natural Fiber Welding. Mirum is completely plastic-free and made from natural materials.

Not only does this mean less plastic is created, but it has a low carbon footprint. According to Allbirds, this carbon footprint is 88% lower than leather made from cows and 75% lower than synthetic mesh, and I promise not to use that word again. Allbirds says the total carbon footprint is 8.24kg CO2e. That may be low, but it’s still nothing, so Allbirds says it makes up for it.

Mirum, by the way, isn’t exclusive to Allbirds, having made its international footwear debut earlier in the year with Mallorca-based Camper releasing the Runner K21 and H&M putting Mirum on the heel, for example some of Cherish Waste collection shoes. Bellroy, Woolly Made and Pangaia are among other brands that use Mirum.

It contains many different ingredients, including rice husks, coconut husk fibers, natural rubber and cork powder, a by-product of wine corking. It also, Allbirds explains, includes citrus peels.

It’s durable, in fact it will last long enough to mean NFW can’t say it complies with the regulated term biodegradability. The company prefers the word bioneutrality.

There are more. Allbirds developed something called Tencel, using eucalyptus and this provides a breathable lining to the plant Pacemakers.

And if you’re not sure about stepping your feet into something made from citrus peels, don’t worry, these shoes are anything but lemons. They look great, especially the limited edition Dreamy Green, and have the trademark Allbirds light feel and cloud-like comfort levels. They are shaped differently than other Allbirds, so check the look before you buy if you’re an Allbirds diehard.

The Plant Pacers have just been released and cost $135 (£120 in the UK) and come in two colours, Natural White and a limited edition Dreamy Green. The company’s other latest design, the Canvas Pacers (you can find out what they’re made of, I think) also cost $135 (£110 in the UK).

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