adidas / allbirds

It ain't easy to properly canonize breakthrough ingenuity like adidas and Allbirds' FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT sneaker, though "industry-changing" is a good descriptor to start with. One small step for consumers, one giant leap for the sneaker business.

Even the adidas and Allbirds partnership announcement itself felt like a seismic shift.

Two sneaker-centric companies, one titanic and one upstart, partnering on a sneaker poised to redefine sustainability in footwear? That doesn't happen every day.

Now, seven months after the first the first FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT drop, adidas and Allbirds are prepping a wider launch on December 15 via adidas' website, the adidas and Allbirds apps, and select retail stores for €120 (about $135) per pair, with four new colorways launching in Spring 2022.

Before all that, though, how'd this all begin?

in late 2019, after Allbirds staff met with adidas execs in Portland to discuss a fresh approach to footwear sustainability, a "super team" comprising both adidas and Allbirds staff was formed and began meeting digitally every month — then, every week and, then, every day — to expediently develop the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT shoe hand-in-hand during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.

"It all started a bit rocky because the pandemic hit as soon as we started to work together," Kimia Yaraghchian, adidas' Product Manager, said.

adidas / allbirds

To make things even more difficult, the adidas/Allbirds super team (adibirds? Alldidas?) had set themselves a monumental task: create a performance running shoe that would cost only two kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) to manufacture.

For reference, a typical running shoe demands about 13.6kg of carbon dioxide emissions and Allbirds' own shoes typically weigh in around 7.1kg CO2e.

"[Completing] the creation and development phase [through COVID] within 12 months was a crazy journey," laughed Yaraghchian. "It was like someone asking you to climb up Mt. Everest in two days without an oxygen mask."

"Sometimes, though, pressure creates beautiful results," Jamie McLellan, Head of Design, Allbirds, added.

"Passion on the topic of sustainability made the work go quick," Sam Handy, VP of Design at Adidas, affirmed.

adidas / allbirds

And, against all odds, the super team did it.

Work on the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT began in earnest around March 2020 and, just over a year later in May 2021, the first 100 pairs hit the market, demanding a mere 2.94kg CO2e per pair.

"Sometimes we get mislead by terms like 'recycling' and 'circularity' but really it is about the raw materials you make the shoe out of," McLellan explained.

Indeed, that number takes into account "everything that's in the shoe, but also the packaging, the shipping of the shoe, pretty much everything you can think of," Hana Kajimura, Allbirds' Head of Sustainability, continued. "That's pretty much the best yardstick for measuring progress against climate change."

"And climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity. Our ambition is to make this data more transparent for the customer in a similar way to how we're hardwired to read calories."

Though the partnership's first priority was to demonstrate eco-conscious, if not circular, shoe design, the super team also had to balance aesthetic appearance and performance.

"The shoe doesn't have an impact if no one wants it," said Kajimura.

"Companies have been perpetuating this myth that there's this tradeoff for the consumer, that you get either 'the sustainable option' or the one you actually want but it's the responsibility of companies to make sure that these are one and the same."

"The shoe isn't making an impact if it doesn't perform or last," adidas' Yaraghchian continued. "We want to make sure that, for people who would buy a sustainable running shoe, that they'd don't feel any tradeoffs in quality or aesthetics."

Yaraghchian, McLellan, and Handy all touched on "the art of reduction," a term that adidas uses to describe the understated approach the super team utilized to create the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT, stripping away all unnecessary components and even creating new ones.

adidas / allbirds

"A lot of the past FUTURECRAFT shoes have been quite maximalist in nature," Handy said. "They're loud, bombastic, big products, whereas [with the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT,] we were staring at it on the table, asking each out, 'Does it look disruptive enough?'"

"But we all came to this conclusion that it is radical, and anything we do try to make it look more radical is completely counter-intuitive. There's an expectation of what 'futuristic' sneakers look like, but that's not an aesthetic that's compatible with sustainable efforts."

"The concept car vision that we might've gone into this project with, this hyper-futuristic solution to carbon, wasn't actually what we ended up with," summarized McLellan.

This contrastingly complex design process and deconstructed appearance is perhaps best summed up by the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT's sole, created when "we mixed the Litestrike EVA compound from the adizero line with the sugarcane content from Allbirds' SweetFoam cushioning," Yaraghchian said.

The result is almost strikingly simple but, not only did it take a painstaking amount of effort to devise, but the hybrid creation is also a worthy physical manifestation of the adidas/Allbirds partnership.

Thanks in part to that special sole, "the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT is almost impossibly light on-foot," Allbirds' McLellan continued. "We were trying to shave off slivers of carbon impact by swapping materials throughout the process, even up to the 11th hour."

"Carbon calculation isn't about any one thing: it's everything, and that informed this shoe," said adidas' Handy. "Every individual material in this shoe had to be reconsidered, each stitch, the sockliner, the midsole."

"It'd have been different if we were building a lifestyle shoe but we were building a performance shoe. And the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT has passed our full wear-test process, it's a real running shoe."

And they could go on: there's so much work that went into building this collaborative sneaker from the ground up that we could only just scratch the surface in a full, hour-long conversation.

Everything is considered, from the airholes on the sneaker's vamp that reduce weight to the very intentional zig-zag seaming on the sneaker's tencel upper that reinforce it against abrasion.

Normally, this kind of stitching — created with Parley's ocean plastic thread — would be hidden inside the sneaker but the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT is so stripped down that these structural elements have nowhere to hide and instead become part of the design.

"The collaboration offers a blueprint — not just for our companies, but for others to follow," said Allbirds' Kajimura.

"It's more about cultural and behavioral change than it is about technological limitations. Like, we were able to get to below 3kg CO2e within 12 months without inventing new materials or factory processes. And, honestly, we hope someone else can beat that."

"The real idea behind this collaboration is to have people question why it's so unusual for two sneaker companies to work together. Rather than trying to one-up each other on performance all these years, what if we'd harnessed all that innovation towards impact as well?"

"The most important message here is that we have to work together to combat climate change," Yaraghchian finished. "We need to have exchanges between peers in the industry to find solutions faster than ever before."

Hopefully, competitors are listening. What more invitation could you ask for?

adidas and Allbirds didn't merely throw down a sustainability gauntlet for the sake of marketing; they're extending an olive branch to the greater sneaker industry in hopes that the other sportswear juggernauts can put aside their differences for the sake of easing the burden on our planet.

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