Having designed everything from boats and retail interiors to chairs and oil burners, Jamie McLellan is now nested in as head designer at sustainable shoe brand Allbirds.
Hi Jamie! Didn’t you work here at Britomart back in the day before you moved to San Francisco?
Yes! I shared a warehouse space first in the Old Sofrana Building and then in the Altrans Building, where Tim introduced me to his woolly vision. Amazing to think all these years later we are now opening a flagship store in the place where it all started!
How did you first come to work with Allbirds?
Tim Brown and I first met in 2011. Tim approached me looking for help with designing shoes made out of wool, a crazy moonshot of an idea he had while still a professional footballer. We worked together continuously over several years to develop the Wool Runner. Allbirds launched in 2016 and a year later I closed my consulting practice in Auckland to join the company in San Francisco as Head of Design.
Where did you draw your ideas from during the process of creating the first shoe?
Tim and I always wanted to create a shoe that we would want to wear. We challenged ourselves to create a new classic that was equally as comfortable to move in and to wear at the pub afterwards. We realised early that wearing wool shoes was an experience unlike anything else and simply wanted to celebrate this incredible material. The rest of the design needed to not get in the way of this simple message. Except for the embroidered eyelets – our one flourish – which needed to be big and whimsical and recognisable!
What was the biggest challenge during the process?
We were so naive when it came to designing shoes. Our naivety was both a blessing and a curse. Naivety helped us find a unique and unfiltered point of view whilst also, at times, making our lives incredibly difficult. We were blissfully unaware of the challenges of making a shoe from wool, of making a shoe with no seams and very few parts. These challenges took a long time to solve, but the longer it took, the more determined and dogmatic we became in our philosophy.
Since the first runner, you've added several new designs, and seem to becoming more and more minimal as you go! Is there anything left to strip away?
Haha, I find this observation really interesting! Our shoes are becoming more refined and sophisticated in the way we construct them, which in some cases might mean the appear even more pure and simple to the consumer. However, I actually feel like our shoes are getting more and more complex as we zoom in on the yarns and fibres and in some cases even the molecules we build them out of.
What's the next iteration likely to be?
Without giving too much away, let's just say that wool will be having a bit of a moment through the rest of 2019.
Are you considering any new materials to add to the palette?
We are always exploring the possibilities of new materials, but for now feel really happy with our trio of hero materials - Wool, Tree and Sugar. There is so much more potential to extract from these amazing ingredients, especially when combined with our other supporting materials like castor bean oil insoles, bio-based TPU components, recycled laces, etc.