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Leon Kaye headshot

Allbirds Further Proves Athletic Gear Can Be High-Performance and Sustainable

By Leon Kaye

Running shoes have certainly come a long way since Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile mark 68 years ago this month. Bannister’s shoes were reportedly much lighter and more flexible than others on the market in the 1950s, but still! The clunkers resembled a pair of Oxford loafers with spikes nailed through the sole. Ouch! Fast forward to the 2020s, and footwear brands such as Allbirds have redefined footwear to be lighter, sleeker and, sure, more sustainable.

While we’re on the topic of Allbirds, the brand has just rolled out a new running shoe, the Tree Flyer. This latest shoe is helping to solve the problems that come along with improved, high-performance athletic gear: Lighter, faster and stronger shoes also often lead to more components, added toxic materials such as glues, less of a chance at any recyclability and a complicated supply chain. 

Allbirds has tackled some of these challenges with the Tree Flyer. Its woven, lightweight upper is made from eucalyptus that is certified as deforestation-free by the Forest Stewardship Council. The lightweight, bouncy sole, which Allbirds brands as SwiftFoam, is made out of materials including a castor bean oil-based resin. The soles’ manufacturing process, says the company, requires less raw materials as well as less energy.

Of course, a sustainable shoe won’t do much good if the runner feels as if he or she went through the wringer instead of their favorite running path. The thick SwiftFoam sole boasts a flared extended heel, which helps provide additional support. Elastic woven within the upper also helps the shoe feel snug during a run, but not uncomfortable. The removable insoles, lined with a thin layer of wool, offer just enough give but aren’t spongy — and again, Allbirds makes them from materials including castor oil.

Allbirds said more than 130 runners together tested the Tree Flyer shoes for almost 4,000 miles over the duration of more than a year. Of course, should you gravitate toward running shoes more for fashion and less for function, the Tree Flyer holds its own — it does just fine when one is chilling by the pool with the dog, as seen in the photo above.

Allbirds’ latest shoes tie in with the brand's other recent work, including a partnership with Adidas to manufacture low-carbon shoes out of recyclable materials. The company has also long tinkered with other renewable materials such as sugar-based resins, tree fibers and sustainably-sourced merino wool.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye