Company’s clothes include innovative textile created from shells of snow crabs from Newfoundland
Tim Brown, co-founder of the San Francisco-headquartered company Allbirds, is adamant that the world can actually use another T-shirt. If, and only if, it’s a better T-shirt. One that pushes the collective conversation about sustainability. And offers textile innovation that could, if adopted by other fashion producers, change the tide of textiles and the resource-intensive production processes required to create them.
A pillar of the product lineup is the patented TrinoXO textile, which features a Chitosan fibre derived from discarded snow crab shells from Newfoundland. The sustainably sourced, renewable material is the “second most abundant biopolymer on Earth,” according to the company.
“It replaces materials like zinc and aluminum materials that are used for antimicrobial parts of apparel, which are extractive materials and are finite,” Brown explains of the Chitosan, which is a byproduct of the crab-fishing industry. The Marine Stewardship Council-certified textile, Brown says, adds a lot of “positives” to the garment’s technical capabilities including requiring a lower wash-per-wear ratio.
“Fundamentally, the average T-shirt that’s made out of virgin polyester or synthetics has greater carbon impact than the product that we make. And, similarly, the product that we’re making with our Trino material is … derived from the natural world. It opens up the opportunity, as we get further into it with regenerative agriculture, to significantly lower that number and the environmental impact in a way that synthetics simply can’t,” Brown says.
The knit items are crafted from ZQ-certified New Zealand Merino wool, while the puffer jacket nixes the oil-derived synthetic fibres, down fill and fluorine-based water repellent, utilizing instead a recycled polyester-Tencel blend for the fill, a Merino wool-Tencel blend for the exterior and a fluorine-free finish. The collection, which has been a “couple of years in the making,” according to Brown, is expected to be expanded in coming seasons.
Another unique element of the Allbirds Apparel launch is the presence of the carbon cost attached to each garment.
“This will be the first range of apparel that we’re aware of that takes what we’ve done in footwear and labels the products that we make with the kilograms of carbon that are emitted in the production, all the way to the supply chain. In the same way that calories go on food,” Brown explains of the visible metric.
The transparency, he says, is a further example of the “accountability and objective information” the company aims to offer customers when considering their products. It’s also a metric offered up as a reminder to the growing Allbirds team that, while they’re doing better than others, they’ve still got some work to do.
“We’re going to be releasing a T-shirt that’s labelled with eight kilograms of carbon. And that’s eight kilograms too many. We’re going to work really, really hard to improve that,” Brown says.
The company is “focused on the idea that climate change is the problem of our generation,” according to Brown. With reducing the overall impact of fashion on the planet as its mission, Allbirds is working to find “better ways to create the products and services that we love, with net-zero or as close to zero carbon impact as we possibly can,” he adds.
“As a business, we’re able to measure our complete carbon footprint, use offsets in the short-term, but fundamentally focus all our innovation and energy into reducing those numbers. There’s nowhere to hide,” Brown says.
The offsets cost the company money, Brown explains, effectively acting as a “tax” on the products Allbirds makes. The company also incentivizes its team with bonuses based on their ability to lower the overall carbon footprint.
“Traditionally with products, you’re thinking about how a product looks and feels. And how it actually works and how much it costs. There’s another constraint that we bring into our design and creative process, which is carbon,” Brown explains. “It forces you to make trade-offs. And, ultimately, starts to imagine new design languages where waste becomes really important. And the illumination of waste creates new forms and approaches to patents.
“We’re just beginning to understand the creative opportunities for that. And I think it’s really, really exciting.”