Allbirds co-CEO: Suing Amazon over shoe 'risky' — they have more lawyers than we have workers

Key Points
  • Suing Amazon over its shoes that look like Allbirds' sneakers is "probably a risky territory to wade into," co-founder and co-CEO Joey Zwillinger tells CNBC.
  • "We're a company of about 500 people total. I would suspect Amazon has more than double that in just lawyers," he says.
  • Zwillinger says he knows there are "a couple dozen" brands making shoes similar to Allbirds,' but the size of Amazon makes this situation different.
Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger on Amazon's new competitive shoe
Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger on Amazon's new competitive shoe

Allbirds co-CEO Joey Zwillinger said on Wednesday that the sneaker company is "looking" at legal action against Amazon but that it would likely be "risky."

"We're a company of about 500 people total. I would suspect Amazon has more than double that in just lawyers," Zwillinger said on "Squawk Alley." "So it's probably a risky territory to wade into, but we're always looking at it. We look carefully every time this happens."

Zwillinger's comments follow revelations that e-commerce giant Amazon is selling a shoe that looks like Allbirds' popular sneakers called the Wool Runners. Amazon's shoe, released under the in-house brand 206 Collective, sells for $45. Allbirds' signature shoe costs $95.

"At a minimum, it's probably at least inspired by us, I would think," said Zwillinger, who co-founded the San Francisco-based company with Tim Brown. "But there are some striking resemblances, as we've seen."

Amazon's shoe is not the only footwear available online that looks like shoes from Allbirds, which recently was valued at $1.4 billion and started selling shoes in March 2016.

When asked if he would consider Amazon's shoe copyright infringement, Zwillinger said there are "a couple dozen copycats."

"It's part of the business of fashion, as I've come to learn," Zwillinger said, calling the speed at which lookalike shoes appear "startling."

But Zwillinger said this situation — given that it involves Amazon, with its size and omnipresent influence — is different.

"It does matter," he said.

Zwillinger said there is a similarity between Amazon's shoe and others that resemble Allbirds: the absence of the environmental standards that Allbirds follows.

"Copying the look and trying to copy the feel of the product we've done is one thing, and I wish people didn't do it," he said.

"But it's different when they don't follow the same practices that we do. We source wool from the most humanely treated sheep in the world. ... We're 100% carbon neutral as a company. ... These knockoffs are trying to siphon off demand we've created for this category of product, and they're really not taking the same care for their impact on the environment."

Zwillinger said Allbirds has actually made some of its technology open source, specifically the process by which Allbirds makes the foam for its shoes. It's a carbon-negative process, he said.

"We think we're onto something kind of special, and we're happy to share a lot of what we do, particularly that foundational R&D when it's good for the environment," he said. "We'd love for these copycats to take all that good stuff, and preferably not steal the design and the IP like that."