In 2012, Tim Brown called it quits on an eight-year professional soccer career that included a trip to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as New Zealand's vice captain. After retiring, one thing from Brown's playing days would not stop bugging him: the sneakers.
Throughout his playing career, Brown's teams (he played in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand) were sponsored by big-name sneaker manufacturers like Adidas and Nike. But Brown felt the sneakers he wore on and off the field were often too flashy, awash with too many different colors and packed with corporate logos.
He wanted something simpler. So, he decided to make his own.
Today, Tim Brown, 37, is co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, the San Francisco-based sneakers start-up that's taking the world by storm, one pair of feet at a time. The billion-dollar company's shoes are famous for being both unbelievably comfortable and constructed with natural, environmentally friendly materials like merino wool and eucalyptus tree fiber.
Not only are Brown's sneakers cozy and sustainable, they're also minimalist in look and sales strategy. Allbirds sells only about half a dozen varieties of its shoes in solid, often understated, colors such as "Natural Grey" or "Tuke Honey" (which shares the name of a New Zealand river). That model stands in contrast to much of the $64 billion global athletic footwear market, where companies like Nike and Adidas churn out hundreds of varieties of shoes with endless options for customization while "sneakerhead" culture creates a market for flashy collaborations involving brands, athletes, celebrities and designers that can see the most coveted shoes sell for thousands of dollars per pair.
"I had a very, very simple insight that shoes were over-logoed, over-colored and changed all the time for no reason," Brown tells CNBC Make It. "And, it was very, very difficult to find 'simple.' And I set out to solve that."
Nearly all of Allbirds' shoes sell for $95 per pair (high tops released in November go for $115) and Brown says the company sold its 1 millionth pair just two years after officially launching in March 2016.