McNamara, a general partner at the early-stage investment firm Great Oaks, is biased. His firm invested in the footwear startup before it became a Silicon Valley phenomenon.
But like many young professionals, McNamara is over dress shoes.
The sneaker has undergone a sort of “fashion baptism,” one New York Times style reporter wrote. As dress codes go lax and designers turn their attention to the “athleisure” market, men and women have more stylish, workplace-appropriate options than ever.
Designer sneakers make up the majority of men’s footwear sales for e-commerce site Mr Porter and department store Barneys New York, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newest threat to the Oxford shoe comes from – where else? – a San Francisco footwear startup.
Allbirds’ debut sneaker, the $95 “Wool Runner,” has been called the world’s most comfortable shoe by venture capitalists and startup founders – as well as by the company itself.
Now the founders of Allbirds are making the case that it’s a viable alternative to the dress shoe.
The workplace is a more casual environment than ever before. Oftentimes, it isn’t an office at all, but a café, coworking space, or train.
“People are working on their mobile phones at night. People are working wherever there’s Wi-Fi,” said Joey Zwillinger, cofounder of Allbirds. “A traditional apparel and footwear industry doesn’t serve that change in trend, and so people are moving in a different direction.”
His cofounder, Tim Brown, dreamt up the idea of a wool sneaker while playing professional soccer in New Zealand. He grew frustrated that while high-performance and fashionable footwear attracted innovation, everyday footwear was an afterthought in the industry.
Allbirds uses merino wool from Brown’s home country that’s processed in Milan, Italy. The result are shoes so comfortable, they’re like slippers made of clouds (in this author’s opinion). The sneakers feature a sleek silhouette that mimic a traditional dress shoe.
It’s worth noting that the shoe lacks a prominent logo because, as Zwillinger puts it, “There is a reason that leather shoes that you wear to work don’t have a ‘swoosh’ on the side of it.”
The company announced Wednesday it raised a Series A round of funding totaling $7.25 million. A new suite of shoe colors is also coming along.
According to McNamara, the company is positioning itself well for the larger shift in how people dress for work.
“I don’t think we would have invested in Allbirds if we didn’t believe this was a shoe that could be worn every single day, in an office or out on the street,” McNamara said. “This shift toward more casual office attire doesn’t mean people don’t care about design or style.”
Allbirds, according to McNamara, is a brand that wants to provide both.