BusinessAugust 3, 2018

Can Allbirds (and Leo DiCaprio) handle the jandal?


Allbirds has a brand new product and investor – one from Brazil, the other from Hollywood.

First, they came for our sheep. Then they came for our trees (but not before coming for our children). And now, they’ve come for our sweet, sweet sugar.

I’m talking about Allbirds here, the San Francisco-based Kiwi footwear company that’s had everyone from Silicon Valley A-listers to Washington DC elite singing its tune. Now, the maker of the World’s Most Comfortable Shoes has decided to branch out from the lucrative sneaker market into Havaianas territory – premium jandals.

Called Sugar Zeffers (not to be confused with the cider), the jandals/sandals/thongs/flip flops are mainly notable for the new sustainable material it’s made from called SweetFoam. Most shoe soles are made from a plastic foam called EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) that’s a petroleum-based material, but SweetFoam is made with carbon negative green-EVA, derived from renewable sugarcane from “the dense, rain-fed fields in Southern Brazil”.

Allbirds Sugar Zeffers made from renewable sugar cane, or SweetFoam (Photo: Supplied)

As Allbirds’ co-founder Joey Zwillinger explains in a piece in Popular Science, the sugarcane is “squished” into a liquid molasses. Yeast is then added which feasts on that sugary substance and produces ethanol. That eventually turns into ethylene, which is the byproduct you would normally need to source from petrol.

But as the article also points out, while moving away from fossil fuels is good in theory, industrial agriculture is not without its own consequences. Sugarcane production is great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it can be harmful to the overall environment as rainforests and plots of land need clearing away to make way for sugarcane farms. Erosion and pollution can also be a problem too.

Trees, wool and sugar – Allbirds has ambitions to become more than just a shoe company (Photo:

Still, things look to be on the up for Allbirds. Other than it’s headline-grabbing new innovation, the company has also announced that it has a brand new investor: actor and eco-warrior Leonardo DiCaprio. NBA basketballer Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors was also announced as an investor, with the addition of Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal as a board advisor. Not that anyone seems to care – it’s all about Leo!

Also, remember how Allbirds was suing Steve Madden for allegedly copying its signature Wool Runners? A spokesperson for Allbirds confirms that case has now been settled.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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