There is no other way I can put this: I have dodgy feet. They have multiple ways of tormenting me – aching, cramping, developing random sharp pains. I have seen numerous chiropodists and podiatrists, in the UK and the US, but nothing improves them, which is a shame because I like to walk. A lot. Six miles a day at least. The only solution is comfortable shoes, and as I get older my quest for them grows more urgent.
About a year ago I bought a pair from the oddly named Northampton brand Steptronic, whose padded and sheepskin-lined shoes were ok for a while but soon became cripplingly uncomfortable. Next I tried a pair of desert-boot-like Travel Shoes from a Spanish label called 24 HRS, which, with their air-filled soles, are bliss but don’t hold the feet as snugly as I would like. I also think they look a bit medical, although my fashion-critical daughters both pronounced them all right. Then, on a ferocious New York winter’s day earlier this year, I added to my super-comfortable footwear collection a heavy-duty pair of Red Wing boots, which look and feel wonderful but are only suitable in limited circumstances.
However, in the past few weeks I have finally found shoe nirvana, courtesy of West Coast startup Allbirds, which has just opened a London store, adding to ones in New York and San Francisco. The brand was set up by former New Zealand international footballer Tim Brown and engineer/renewables expert Joey Zwillinger, and its trainer-style shoes are made from sustainable materials such as fine merino wool, eucalyptus-tree fibre, recycled bottles and castor bean oil. Since launching in 2014, Allbirds has become something of a shoe sensation in Silicon Valley, with Hollywood stars among the brand’s devotees. Brown told me that at the London store opening one male actor ordered 12 pairs.
It’s easy to see why, as they are almost ludicrously comfortable, eclipsing anything else that has ever adorned my big, faulty feet. I have worn my Tree Runners (£95) every day for weeks now, tramping around New York and London, and added a pair of Wool Runners (£95) from the New York store. They both hug my feet tightly (they are designed to be worn without socks, but do not look stupid with them), but never sweatily. They are light and flexible, with low-density foam soles, but also supportive, with cushioned merino-wool insoles. The Tree Runners have a mesh-knit upper made from eucalyptus pulp, which I feel will be hardier for winter than the wool-upper ones. They also come in numerous colourways, from all-black to bright red, in both men’s and women’s styles.
And, regarding hardiness, they may look delicate (and stylish, my daughters tell me), but they also seem to be tough. I wear most shoes down on one side of the heel in a matter of weeks, but the Allbirds soles seem to be unworn even after what I calculate to be over 100 miles on foot. They don’t claim to be waterproof, but they are machine-washable, and although they are called Runners, you probably wouldn’t want to wear them for actual running.