The sportswear industry has an undeniable thirst for collaboration, embracing a new crossover almost every week, often with a fashion brand, famous personality or cultural institution. But even by these standards, the new partnership between Adidas and Allbirds defies expectation.

The industry giant and relative newcomer have announced today that they are joining forces to develop a performance shoe with the lowest-ever carbon footprint. This push for sustainability dovetails with Allbirds’ recent carbon number initiative, which expresses end-to-end carbon dioxide emissions of each of its products on a dedicated label, and commits to offsetting such emissions. At present, the average running shoe has a carbon footprint of approximately 13.6kg CO2, and the total annual emissions by the footwear industry amounts to 700 million metric tons. Through innovations in manufacturing and supply chain processes, and the exploration of renewable material resources, Adidas and Allbirds hope to eventually drive this number to zero. 

Adidas teams in Herzogenaurach, Germany and Portland, Oregon have started to work with San Francisco-based Allbirds via video conferencing, exchanging technologies and learnings that have traditionally been closely guarded. While social distancing recommendations are preventing the two brands from collaborating in person for now, Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Tim Brown explains that the timing of the project is deliberate, reflecting the global feeling of cohesion in a time of crisis: ‘This coming together has allowed us to imagine that the seemingly insurmountable and urgent challenge of slowing the impact of man-made climate change is perhaps more possible than ever before.’

The project also comes on the heels of eco-minded footwear launches on both sides: Adidas’ Futurecraft Loop, made from 100 per cent thermoplastic polyurethane so as to be fully recyclable; and Allbirds’ Dasher, crafted from natural renewable materials including eucalyptus fibre and sugarcane. ‘The recent progress that our brands have made in the name of sustainable innovation has created the perfect momentum for this partnership to influence industry practices forever,’ explains James Carnes, vice president of brand strategy at Adidas.

More than a technical experiment or a co-branding opportunity, the project will show the capabilities of ostensible competitors who are united in common purpose. ‘Our hope is that the future is more about collaboration than it is competition, and our special partnership with Adidas is an example for others to follow,’ says Brown. §