Allbirds, SF tech bros’ shoe of choice, is struggling big


Allbirds, the plainspoken and washable woolen sneaker that doubles as the de facto San Francisco tech bro shoe of choice, is faltering big a year after it went public on the stock market.

Following a disappointing earnings report Thursday — in which the San Francisco-based company failed to meet investor expectations and revenue dropped 13% year over year — Allbirds’ stock plummeted to a near-record low since going public. 

As of Friday afternoon, Allbirds shares are at a paltry $1.25 each. The company went public at a valuation of $4 billion in 2021, with shares on its first day on the stock market closing at nearly $29 each. Allbirds co-CEO and co-founder Joey Zwillinger attributed the company’s recent challenges to overexpansion and its recent rollout into athleisure and activewear. Last year, the company rolled out an exercise apparel line — just a month after introducing a new sneaker made out of plant-based leather.

“As we made those adjacent product development decisions, we unfortunately lost a bit of sight of what our core consumer fell in love with us for in the first place and what they continue to want from us,” Zwillinger told CNBC in an interview.

But what can Allbirds really do when its core consumer has seemingly grown weary of the brand? Customers are buying $31 less worth of goods in 2022 than they were in 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal. Other sustainable, lowkey, “timeless” shoe brand startups — Cariuma and Atoms, for example — have emerged in their wake and without the baggage of a tech connection.

As the lucrative heyday of the tech industry settles into a phase of austerity after mass layoffs and bank takeovers, the allure of working in tech — and, by proxy, signifying your place in this world — has vanished. As noted by writer and venture capitalist Om Malik, the shoes are “the Khakis of this generation” — just another piece to place yourself in the “herd” of other techies. 

There’s another challenge: For a sneaker that falls so squarely into the stereotype of the San Francisco tech worker, it has struggled to escape that demographic — and gain much cultural cachet in the larger sneaker and apparel market. Awareness of the brand across America is at a mere 11%, according to a 2022 Seeking Alpha report, despite the company’s spending millions on marketing.

The sneaker industry, in particular, is so reliant on hype and novelty — luxury brand collaborations, controversy-courting anomalies and celebrity brand endorsements. Allbirds, for a while, at least had the latter even as it openly rejected the hype model. An E! article boasts that the likes of Hilary Duff, Kate Hudson and Chris Pratt loved their Allbirds during their pandemic-era coffee runs. But they’ve moved on: An article published this week boasts that Ashton Kutcher absolutely loves his Cariumas. And as classic, truly timeless Adidas sneakers get worn by supermodels and shoes are now astronomically big and weird, Allbirds is feeling the pinch at all ends — and getting lost somewhere in the middle.


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