A Former World Cup Athlete Makes a Play for Sustainable Shoes - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because sometimes the smartest things just need to be simple, and repeated often.

By Amanda Bungartz

Whether Tim Brown is on the field playing soccer or in the boardroom presenting ideas, his approach to success has always been straightforward: Have fun and work as a team.

Brown is the co-founder of Allbirds, a San Francisco–based startup that manufactures sustainable footwear made out wool, eucalyptus fiber and sugar cane. From his early days playing soccer in New Zealand, Brown recognized the need for simple, stable shoes that could stand the test of time. “I looked at the footwear space as a personal pain point, largely because it was overcomplicated, overdesigned and full of products that changed all the time,” he says.

Urged by his parents to pursue something that truly interested him, Brown decided to hang up his cleats and set out to solve one of the footwear industry’s biggest problems: designing a simple, comfortable shoe.

Amid all the jokes and the negative bits of feedback, there was always the sense that [this was good].… I leaned on that and still do.

Tim Brown

Brown remembers designing his first shoes out of canvas and sharing them with his teammates. And while there was some teasing initially, the continued support from his friends and family has been a key part of his creativity and drive. “Amid all the jokes and the negative bits of feedback,” says Brown, ”there was always the sense that [this was good]. They said things like ‘Go and have a go at this’ and ‘Well done for trying’ and that was invaluable. I leaned on that and still do.”


But there was one person who didn’t think Brown’s idea was a laughing matter: engineer and environmental enthusiast Joey Zwillinger. With Zwillinger’s commitment to sustainability and Brown’s keen eye for design, the two partnered, and successfully launched Allbirds in 2016.

“For Joey and I, we imagined the business that we would tell our grandkids about,” says Brown.

Listen to the interview above to learn how this former soccer star disrupted the shoe industry by focusing on sustainability and simplicity. 

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