Shoe brand Allbirds—known for its wool-based sneakers—is planning to add Plant Leather to its future collections. The brand recently invested $2 million into Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. (NFW) and its Mirum technology which is creating alternatives to both animal and synthetic leathers from vegetable oil, natural rubber, and other eco-friendly materials. “For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment,” Allbirds Co-founder and Co-CEO Joey Zwillinger said. “Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98-percent reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate petroleum from the fashion industry.” 

Allbirds plans to use the innovative material—the carbon impact of which is 40 times less than leather and 17 times less than synthetic leather—as part of a new collection slated for release in December 2021. “Humanity’s dependence on plastic and other petroleum-based products has created a scarcity mindset that is unsustainable both for everyone’s quality of life and the future of this planet. A new era, one of abundance, will come from the creation of technologies based on sustainable and regenerative methods,” NFW Founder and CEO Luke Haverhals said. “At NFW, we have developed technologies like Mirum that rely on plentiful natural materials, not petroleum and plastic. We’re proud to partner with a brand helping to lead the charge into the next era. By taking responsibility over their supply chain and the products they source, Allbirds continues to set an example for eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels while continuing to give their customers the quality and performance they expect.”

While Allbirds still uses animal products such as wool, the company developed other plant-based materials—including Eucalyptus fiber knit fabric and a sugarcane-based EVA foam. Allbirds innovations, including Plant Leather, are open-source technology, meaning other companies, including Allbirds competitors, are free to use them.

Shoes made from plants, not animals

Allbirds is joining other shoe companies in the pursuit of developing a plant-based, plastic-free alternative to animal-derived leather. After launching a variety of styles made with vegan leather, show giant Adidas announced in December that it is developing plant-based leather shoes from mycelium—the fast-growing root systems of mushrooms. Adidas—which recently pledged to never use animal fur in its designs—is also working to ramp up its use of recycled ocean plastic in place of environmentally damaging materials in its designs, with the goal of increasing the 15 million pairs of shoes it made from recycled plastic waste in 2020 to 17 million pairs in 2021.

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