New Zealand Merino wool shoe company Allbirds founded by former All White captain Tim Brown will open its first New Zealand store in August.
A local store is a dream come true for Kiwi co-founder Brown, originally from Wellington, who thought up the idea of a sustainable and ethical footwear brand back when he was kicking a football around for living.
Five years have passed since Brown and San Francisco local Joey Zwillinger founded the business in northern California. Today, it employs 250 people and has operations in six countries.
Brown says Allbirds' Auckland store, set to open in downtown Britomart in August - the exact date has not been confirmed, would be a flagship and the company's 10th retail space.
"This has always been a dream - we're based in San Francisco, have been from the beginning of the founding of Allbirds, but the journey that got us here started in New Zealand many years ago," says Brown.
"New Zealand is the spiritual home of what we built and as we've launched our retail it has always been about coming back. I made a strong play for Wellington, where I'm from, but ultimately Auckland felt the right place to start."
Brown is tight lipped on further plans for expansion in New Zealand but says the 258 sq m store will feature a section dedicated to sharing the Allbirds story and the origin of the materials the shoes is made from. It will feature a shoe wall, and also host "activations" and events.
Allbirds retail director Travis Boyce made a few trips to New Zealand to scout out a location for the brand's first New Zealand store.
"We felt the CBD was a place that was going to attract both a mix of local and tourist customers and give us the opportunity to really showcase the brand. Britomart is the perfect amount of not too commercial and offers the opportunity for us to hopefully drive a lot sales," says Boyce.
Brown says he "couldn't be more excited" to bring the brand back to New Zealand.
"It's about the ultimate try-on experience but it is also about learning about our materials and source origins and the innovations that underpin the whole reason for this business being in the world."
Allbirds prides itself on being sustainable, using Merino wool sourced from New Zealand farms and other natural materials such as eucalyptus fibres, sugar cane byproducts which the soles of its shoes are made of, and other recycled materials. The company wants to revolutionise the global footwear industry, which churns out an estimated 25 billion pairs of shoes each year.
Retail is a big growth driver for the company.
Allbirds opened its first store under its headquarters in San Francisco in 2017, spending a "few thousand dollars" on the fitout. In April it expanded into China, opening stores in Beijing and Shanghai , and plans to open two more there. It will also open a store in Seattle this year, its third American store, and has another store already established in Covent Garden in London.
"If you told me three years ago that Leonardo Dicaprio would be an investor and Matthew McConaughey was wearing the shoes and Woody Harrelson would be on the cover of the New York Times talking about how good the shoes are I would have laughed... we've come a long way in a short space of time," says Brown.
Last month Allbirds announced its plans to impose a carbon tax on itself as part of its goal to be carbon-neutral. The company carried out a full audit of its carbon footprint, from sheep stations in South Canterbury to its textile mill in Italy to its manufacturing in South Korea to San Francisco, where it calculated the environmental cost of its corporate staff's daily commute.
Off the back of that it launched a scheme to "self-impose" a carbon tax on every shoe it produces to make its overall production process greener.
A Series A round last year saw Allbirds raise US$50 million ($74m) at a private equity valuation of US$1.4 billion ($2b) from investors, including Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
The company sold one million pairs of shoes by late 2017.