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Direct-to-consumer darling Allbirds takes flight in IPO

November 3, 2021, 8:07 PM UTC

Allbirds, the direct-to-consumer shoemaker best known for its eco-friendly wool sneakers and slip-ons, saw shares take off on Wednesday in their trading debut, tapping into investors’ insatiable appetite for fast growth stories despite ongoing losses.

The company’s shares rose 91% on Wednesday on the Nasdaq after pricing above their estimate range of $12 to $14, giving Allbirds a market capitalization of almost $4 billion. That reflects the great interest in the new stock from investors, particularly those looking for companies that focus on sustainability and responsible environmental stewardship. Allbirds touts its research and development into and use of sustainable, natural materials in its footwear, such as eucalyptus fiber, castor bean oil, and crab shells, on top of the wool in its flagship product.

“In the shadow of COP26 going on at the moment, this is the opportunity to take our sustainability mission and give it a bigger stage and prove the idea that profit and purpose don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I think [that] is a core part of why today is so important,” co-CEO and cofounder Tim Brown told Fortune in an interview.

But the tougher part will be to keep investors interested in buying into its plans. Allbirds’ net loss came to $14.5 million in 2019 but nearly doubled to $25.9 million in 2020, according to its IPO prospectus. What’s more, it expects a net loss of $15 million to $18 million for the three-month period ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $7 million in the year-ago period. And in its filing, Allbirds said, “We expect to continue to incur significant losses in the future.” Wall Street darlings like Warby Parker and Chewy have also struggled with getting to profitability.

But Brown, who points out that Allbirds had come close to the breakeven point before the pandemic, sees a path to profitability from the company’s plan to expand its store fleet, develop international markets, and its fledgling presence in the apparel market. And there is no doubt Allbirds is growing fast: Net revenue for the six months ended June 30 rose 27% year over year to $118 million. 

“We’ve come out of that an even stronger business and built an incredible foundation for future scaling growth. So it was a clear path to profitability for us, and we are taking some time to invest in this core innovation engine that really I think makes us quite different relative to the rest of the footwear category,” said Brown.

Allbirds is gingerly tipping its toes in the competitive apparel market, focusing on comfort as it does with shoes, but again, focusing on the natural materials it uses for its shoes. “We feel that the category is shifting away from synthetics and plastic materials to natural and sustainable ones,” said Brown. Allbirds is a B Corp, requiring it to balance profit and purpose but also publicly report on its impact on the environment. “We aim to reverse climate change through better business,” Allbirds proclaimed in its prospectus.

Allbirds sells only via its website and its physical retail stores. Its store fleet is currently only 27, but the company said in the prospectus it sees the potential for hundreds. Here, Brown said, Allbirds will proceed carefully, armed with the data from its online business, currently 89% of sales, that tells it what markets would be the most suitable and whether the best option will be on high streets or better malls. (Brown said Allbirds could try some wholesale partners further down the line, but that’s not in any current plans.) He also sees global potential for the San Francisco–based company, which currently gets 76% of its revenue in the U.S. “We imagined this as a global brand. There is a customer that’s the same in San Francisco and Auckland as they are in London and in Shanghai,” he says.

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