It’s 2019, and wool is no longer just for your favorite socks. It makes sense that now the lightest, most versatile, and most comfortable shoes I own are made from the same wool we love to wrap our feet in, and they come from the San Franciscan-based, New Zealand-born footwear startup known as Allbirds.
Allbirds claims that its wool shoes are some of the softest, most comfortable footwear that you’ll ever find, with the added benefit of being environmentally friendly. Plus, with the promise of being washable and wearable without socks, these shoes certainly sound like a dream come true.
While these wool sneakers can be seen on everyone’s feet these days (the company has sold more than 1 million pairs to date) one has to wonder—is the $95 wool shoe really worth it? After putting my own Allbirds through multiple seasons of use (and multiple turns in the washer), my verdict is in:
What sets Allbirds apart
Allbirds claims to be dedicated to producing ethically sourced, environmentally-friendly shoes—that also happen to be supremely stylish and almost outrageously comfortable. Co-founder Tim Brown sought to create a shoe that was both wearable and sustainable using merino wool from New Zealand's plentiful sheep population.
But it’s not just the use of merino wool that is good for the planet: the brand released a new sole material called SweetFoam, derived from sustainably-grown Brazilian sugarcane instead of synthetic rubber, which can release harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds into the environment. SweetFoam reduces the ecological footprint that is normally associated with mass-producing sneakers, and is so effective that Allbirds has offered to share the technology with any shoemaker who asks for it.
Beyond the shoes' construction, I appreciate their lack of superfluous packaging. Instead of getting boxes within boxes stuffed with tissue paper and packaging materials, you instead receive exactly one box upon order: Allbirds uses its shoe boxes as transportation boxes, making online shopping just a little bit better for the environment.
Are Allbirds comfortable?
When I’m looking for shoes, I’m most interested in seeing how long I can bear to stay in a pair over 24 hours. And quite frankly, if it were socially acceptable to wear shoes into bed, I would absolutely keep my Allbirds on all day and all night. They’re that comfortable, and stylish, too. The shoe fits snugly against your foot with a tapered toe for an elegant, elongated look and the sole is raised near the heel, which is fantastic for arch support.
You can go sock-free: Allbirds are meant to be worn without socks. That’s because the merino wool construction of these shoes is actually moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial (a naturally property of sheep’s clothing). Whereas wearing other shoes sans socks can result in disastrously stinky results, this simply is not the case with Allbirds. And as someone with particularly unpleasant smelling feet in hot summer days (I’m not afraid to admit it), I’m thrilled to find a pair of shoes that doesn’t require constant application of Gold Bond foot powder.
You can wear them year-round: The wool upper of Allbirds also makes this shoe ideal for the winter. Having spent my last several years braving the cold in the northeast, it’s a dream to have a pair of sneakers that doesn’t let in every single gust of wind. And although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these shoes for the hottest summer days in Texas, they’re still surprisingly breathable despite being made of wool.
They're mom-approved: Aside from the woolen construction of these shoes, the soles are incredibly lightweight and supportive. When I first gifted my mother a pair of Allbirds (who, for the record, is notoriously hard to please when it comes to shoes), she compared the experience to walking on a cloud.
How to wash Allbirds
Part of creating a sustainable product is ensuring that you don’t have to engage in overconsumption. Washing a pair of Allbirds means your shoes last longer, and the company aims to make cleaning easy: so you can just toss them into the washing machine. When your Allbirds are looking a bit worse for wear, remove the insoles and laces, and brush off any excess grime with a towel or soft brush. Then, just put your shoes in your washer on a wool or delicates cycle—be sure it uses cold water.
Allbirds recommends placing your shoes inside a laundry bag when washing, but I’ve never done this and have never suffered any consequences. You can also wash the insoles, if needed, by hand. Never tumble dry your sneakers: just let them air dry, and by the next day, they should be as good as new.
So, are Allbirds worth it?
Allbirds Wool Runners will set you back $95, about comparable with other athleisure sneakers from Nike, Reebok, and the like. Given that I wear my pair at just about every possible juncture, I certainly feel as though I’ve gotten more than $95 worth of mileage out of these shoes already.
That said, it doesn't mean they're without fault. If you’re looking to go to the gym in these shoes...don’t. While they can certainly withstand long walks or short jogs, they’re not meant for intense workouts. They’re too warm for extended strenuous physical activity, and the shoes simply aren’t designed for long distance runs or tough kickboxing sessions. For those sports, you’ll want more structured, breathable shoes that offer specific support across your foot.
Another drawback: wearing these shoes in the rain is not recommended. While the rain won’t ruin them, Allbirds are by no means waterproof, and wearing wet and heavy wool shoes throughout the day isn’t exactly my idea of fun.
There are other wool shoes on the market, but Allbirds stands above the rest in terms of design and comfort. Their unique aesthetic makes them one of the most recognizable shoes in the market, and with a wide range of colors, your pair of Allbirds won’t necessarily look like those of your neighbor. And although all wool shoes are ultimately cozy and soft, Allbirds are the lightest I’ve tried, and have a uniquely supportive sole that can withstand even the longest days of sightseeing and exploring. So if you’re in search of your next great shoe obsession, Allbirds may just be the place to turn.