The secret to super comfortable new shoes is citrus peel

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The Allbirds are extremely comfortable shoes that have long used smart technology to provide lightweight, flexible and very attractive shoes. Now the company has launched Plant Pacers, an alternative to leather. Allbirds may be understated to look at, but this unassuming quality has propelled them to success as a go-to shoe in Silicon Valley.

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High-profile figures, as they say, from Larry Page to Andreesen Horowitz’s Ben Horowitz, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and Barack Obama are said to have sported a pair. Part of the reason for the popularity is the company’s commitment to sustainability.

Tim Brown, former vice-captain of the New Zealand soccer team, has won a research grant from his country’s wool industry to design a sneaker. In 2014, things got off to a good start with a Kickstarter launch: as Brown explained to Footwear News, “The thing blew up. We sold $120,000 worth of shoes in four days. By October 2018, he had become a unicorn, with a valuation of around $1.4 billion, it was reported. It was listed on NASDAQ in November 2021 under the ticker symbol BIRD.

Brown has teamed up with biotech engineer and renewable energy expert Joey Zwillinger, with the goal of creating “better things in a better way.”

Thus, the materials used have always been chosen with sustainability in mind, with merino wool intrinsic to its first product, the Wool Runner. But sometimes there were also surprising ingredients. For example, she created her own SweetFoam which is used in the soles of shoes and which comes from sugar cane. And the laces are made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s recycled nylon in some products and TrinoXO in others, which contains chitosan, made from crab shells. Seriously.

Take the foam out of the insole – you have to remove it and the laces when you put the shoes in the washing machine to clean them – and you might want to know that what you’re holding is a merino wool material and castor oil.

So the last logical step is that Allbirds would create an alternative to leather. But where some rivals used plastic leather (or, in that horrible word that sounds like you’re spitting, leather), Allbirds used Mirum, in partnership with NFW, which stands for Natural Fiber Welding. Mirum is completely plastic-free and made from natural materials.

This not only means less plastic is created, but it has a low carbon footprint. According to Allbirds, that carbon footprint is 88% lower than cowhide and 75% lower than synthetic leather, and I promise not to use that word again. Allbirds says the total carbon footprint is 8.24 kg CO2e. It might be a little but it’s still not nothing, so Allbirds says it makes up for it.

By the way, Mirum isn’t exclusive to Allbirds, having made its international footwear debut earlier in the year with Mallorca-based Camper launching the Runner K21 and H&M putting Mirum in the heel of, for example, some of her shoes from the Cherish Waste collection. Bellroy, Woolly Made and Pangaia are among other brands using Mirum.

It contains many different ingredients, including rice husks, coconut fibers, natural rubber, and powdered cork, a byproduct of making wine corks. It also includes, Allbirds explains, citrus peel.

It is durable, in fact it will last long enough to mean that NFW cannot say it meets the regulated biodegradability term. The company prefers the word bioneutrality.

There is more. Allbirds developed something called Tencel, using eucalyptus, which provides a breathable lining for Plant Pacers.

And if you’re not sure about stepping into something made from citrus peel, don’t worry, these shoes are anything but lemons. They look great, especially the limited-edition Dreamy Green, and have Allbirds lightweight feel and cloud-like levels of comfort. They have a different shape than other Allbirds, so check out the look before you buy if you’re a diehard Allbird fan.

The Plant Pacers have just gone on sale and cost $135 (£120 in the UK) and come in two colours, Natural White and this limited edition Dreamy Green. The company’s other latest design, Canvas Pacers (you can figure out what they’re made of, I think) is also $135 (£110 in the UK).

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