Trending: ‘Canary in a coal mine’: Seattle marketing tech startup Amplero shuts down, lays off 17 employees
Allbirds’ wool runners on the left, with Amazon’s 206 Collective on the right. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Allbirds raced to a valuation of more than $1 billion on the popularity of its trendy wool shoes. Now the CEO and co-founder of the Silicon Valley startup is calling out Jeff Bezos for a “strikingly similar” product being sold on Amazon, and for lacking the sustainability practices preached by Allbirds.

In a post on Medium on Monday titled “Dear Mr. Bezos,” Joey Zwillinger said that while Allbirds is “flattered” by Amazon’s “strikingly similar” private label shoe, sold as part of the tech giant’s 206 Collective brand, he wishes Amazon was committed to environmentally friendly materials, as well.

Allbirds is “here to help,” he wrote. “As we’ve done with over 100 other brands who were interested in implementing our renewable materials into their products, including direct competitors, we want to give you the components that would make this shoe not just look like ours, but also match our approach to sustainability.”

Amazon sells its wool-blend sneaker for $45, compared to the $95 that Allbirds charges. Amazon has more than 100 private-label brands aimed at determining what’s popular and then creating similar products for deeply discounted prices.

A wool blend sneaker from Amazon’s 206 Collective. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The similarities between the Amazon and the Allbirds shoes first made headlines in September. They resurfaced last week in a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour and on the “Pro Rata” podcast with Axios’ Dan Primack, Zwillinger criticized Amazon’s knockoff as “algorithmically inspired” and said Allbirds can’t really compete with Amazon when it comes to paid search on Google.

Zwillinger said for his small company to take on a near-trillion-dollar company like Amazon with a potential lawsuit would be pointless — “like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment in response to GeekWire’s inquiry Monday morning. The company downplayed the similarities to Allbirds in a statement provided to Business Insider last week.

“Offering products inspired by the trends to which customers are responding is a common practice across the retail industry. 206 Collective’s wool blend sneakers don’t infringe on Allbirds’ design. This aesthetic isn’t limited to Allbirds, and similar products are also offered by several other brands,” the spokesperson said.

So on Monday, Zwillinger asked Bezos to at least use the materials that make Allbirds special, namely the sustainable version of foam used on the bottoms of the sneakers.

“Not only were we able to create a natural version of what has historically been petroleum-derived, but we’re also removing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it away with one of the most photosynthetically-efficient crops, fighting climate change in the process,” he wrote. “You can use it. We want you to use it.”

Zwillinger offered to send samples of the company’s SweetFoam or put Bezos in touch with Allbirds’ partner to learn more.

“Please steal our approach to sustainability,” he concluded.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Executive AssistantRad Power Bikes
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.