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The Sneakers That Changed My Stance On Athleisure

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Let me get something off my chest right away: I am judgmental as hell about people who wear yoga pants and sneakers outside the gym. Post-yoga brunch? Fine. Dinner at a trendy restaurant hours after you've left the gym? Nope. Unless you're Gigi Hadid and can get away with old-school track pants and Balenciaga heels on the red carpet, the only place athleisure belongs is in the space immediately before or after the gym, in my humble opinion.

I know, I know—altheisure is officially fashionable. (FYI, here's a look at the future of the athleisure industry.) But I never really got why people dress for the day in kicks and an edgy pair of running tights without any intention of setting foot on the track or treadmill. Dressing that way makes me feel a little, dare I say, phony.

Then I got a pair of sneakers that made me eat my athleisure-hating words.

Launched last year by the former captain of the New Zealand soccer team, Tim Brown, and his business partner Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds set out with a humble mission: Make the most comfortable athletic shoe. Ever. But rather than drawing inspiration from the Nikes and Adidas of the world, the Allbirds design team drew inspiration from the Warby Parkers and Everlanes—companies that came into the crowded fashion space with a super-simple, but super-good idea.

 

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After thousands of sketches and hours of debate, the result is a simple, sustainably made sneaker crafted from Italian knitted wool (it feels legit like a slipper). Its signature is its lack of branding—they call it "the right amount of nothing."

"I think when you have a category like casual footwear and it is so crowded and everyone is trying to outdo each other on the margins of color and loud logo treatments, we were actually able to get heard by whispering," says Brown. "We were laser-focused on form in the pursuit of the simplest possible silhouette and shoe we could make."

In other words, Allbirds were born to play nice with the minimalist items already in my closet—step one in my athleisure conversion. The first time I wore them was actually to a meeting with an editor. When I'd slipped them out of their packaging that morning, they were so chic and clean that they looked like an intentional part of my totally profesh jeans and leather jacket combo. I felt ~trendy~ just like Gigi. They were so comfy, I kept them on. That was step two.

 

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I'm serious when I say they feel like slippers—the super-fine, tightly knitted merino wool used to make the body of the shoe is soft enough to wear without socks (another thing I never used to do) but durable enough to stand up to a Barry's Bootcamp class. Crazy, I know. I wore them to my first-ever class not realizing how hard I'd have to hit the treadmill. But lo and behold, the shoe that could seemingly go anywhere held up for a ride even smoother than my usual running sneakers. Step three.

After that, I was hooked. I liked the feeling that no matter where I was during the day, I was geared up to drop into a class or squeeze in some midday miles while still being presentable enough to run between meetings (which to be fair, is the only unplanned running I do during a normal day). It got easier and easier to lace up with running tights and a cool bomber and admit I was getting into the athleisure thing. (Related: Work Wear That Feels Like Activewear)

Over the next few months, I picked up a couple more pairs (they come in a new batch of nature-inspired colors every season—my favorites are the lemon yellow, mint green and naturally, the Millennial pink). And the more I wore them, the more I started to notice an authentic change in my style. Slowly, my gym style started moving to the streets. I like that the Allbirds look like a lifestyle shoe—they're not loud like my regular roster of running shoes. Instead, they keep my look understated just like their ultra-minimal branding.

If you're no stranger to strutting gym style on the streets, meet the star of your next #kickstagram. And if you're anything like I was, well, prepare to have your mind changed.

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