Chip York, svp and creative director at Ketchum, has five pairs of Allbirds.
“Allbirds are the best,” said York. “Comfy, stylish, reasonable. Plus, I travel almost every week, and these are the best [for] running through airports to client meetings. Love, love, love them.”
York isn’t alone. In recent years, Allbirds has swept the agency world offering comfort, minimalist design and an eco-friendly message. The popularity — and now ubiquity among a certain sector of the digital creative class, of which agencies are a part — came as some consumers responded to and championed brands that offer a purpose beyond their product. In fashion, direct-to-consumer brands like Everlane and Allbirds offered transparency into their business practices that appealed to consumers, particularly those that try to wrestle with what fast fashion can do to the planet while still being able to buy the latest trendy piece.
At the same time, Silicon Valley set the tone for what’s deemed business casual in recent years and agencies have all but mimicked Silicon Valley’s anti-style approach to style. Silicon Valley made wearing the same T-shirt every day a sign of genius rather than laziness. And in recent years, there’s been another cultural adoption of comfort over fashion — think athleisure — that’s become mainstream. Those movements, together, led to the overwhelming popularity of Allbirds.
But as Allbirds has grown its footprint, its cool factor has waned. Silicon Valley has all but moved on. Now, maybe agencies — always a bit slow to catch on — may be doing the same.
“It was initially an immensely popular brand overall, and gained a lot of points by resonating with a fashion and tech conscience audience while skewing (at least to me) as a product akin to a generic Keds type of shoe,” wrote Mike Ceraulo, group design director, Campbell Ewald, in an email. “There was an incredible amount of buzz surrounding them as little as a year ago but seemingly has quieted down since.”
It’s the ubiquity of Allbirds that has some sneaker-loving agency employees looking to change their footwear, but what they’re changing that footwear to is up for debate. (Allbirds did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)
“It’s not always about counter-culture,” according to Ben Granger, senior account executive at Mythic. “But now that bankers are wearing Allbirds, it’s time for adland to make the switch to Jordans.”
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One agency source believes Veja may be the next wave of popular sneakers, especially among fashionable women who love sneakers.
“Consumers enjoy that a brand like Veja contribute to society [and] sustainability when you purchase a pair, but honestly some don’t even identify with the cause,” wrote Libby DeLana, creative director and co-founder at Mechanica. “It doesn’t even matter what they’re donating to or how they are saving the world, because it has an intellectual alibi for justifying the purchase, and the high value you’re paying.”
That potential to show your values through your shoes may be why Allbirds became quickly popular with agency employees, according to agency sources.
“Allbirds took off because this new generation of shoppers are more likely to shop with a certain company because of their values and what they stand for,” said a group creative director at a major creative agency. “But there’s this endless cycle of trying to be different. It’s like salads — it’s better for everyone, and then there are so many salad places. You just want more options, and at some point when everyone is wearing that one, you try to find another thing to stand out.”
The move away from Allbirds is driven by the need for agency employees to be different in everything they do, even the fashion that they wear. “Allbirds are like the Away of the sneaker game. And by that, I mean I am getting Away,” wrote Granger.
“We like to define ourselves by being different (and end up the same), but Vejas doesn’t offer the hope of being different,” said Tom Goodwin, evp and head of innovation at Zenith, who recently asked if anyone wears Allbirds anymore on Twitter.
Others hadn’t heard of Vejas but instead see a movement back to old-school sneaker culture — of wearing what you love no matter the trend — is on the rise.
That being said, some still see Allbirds as the popular minimalist agency shoe. It came about as there’s been a general cultural trend for versatile fashion, specifically athleisure, that can work in the gym and at the office. Some see the quick popularity of Allbirds as a result of the need for a shoe that can be worn at the gym and at the office.
“Bringing an extra pair of shoes to hit the gym and carrying that all day is not what people want anymore,” said Mark McGarry, co-founder and CEO of shoe brand YORK Athletics. “People want shoes you can rock at the gym and then go right back to work. That’s a movement that we’re seeing.”
“Your shoes tell the world who you are and are making a statement as much as anything these days,” wrote DeLana.