Wellingtonians are, if nothing else, great at flying high with epic ideas that change the game in a well established big dollar industries.
I know, I know it sounds like a cliche! But hear me out... From coffee to beer to chocolate, in the last five to twenty years or so, Wellingtonians seem to be constantly questioning the status quo (like the cheeky yet charming so-and-so's we are). Why can't you make a syrup out of coffee? What if you started a bean to bar cacao chocolate factory and sailed a traditional Fijian boat to Bougainville to pick up the beans? What if you really took proper care over every single ale brewed and brewed it fresh down the road? From this curiosity and demand for quality, I think Wellington has become the true artisanal heart of Aotearoa.
Another thing we are ace at (cue circle finger 'ok' emoji) is football (hurrah for the Wellington Phoenix!) which is why I was BLOODY excited that former All White Tim Brown and his San Fran based start-up, 'Allbirds Woollen Runners', made the leap across the Pacific Ocean back to Welly this week! His company makes a sneaker (in only one shape for simplicity) that is crafted from New Zealand superfine merino sheep wool. This makes it comfortable, breathable and sustainable (sheep grow wool - so always renewable).
Now we all love a good expat-done-good story and Tim is no exception. After finishing his football career he flew off, did a Kickstarter Campaign, launched the company, got some backers and has been KILLING it over in the other start-up capital of the world (Hi, San Fran! No, not the gig venue on Cuba Street - the REAL San Francisco). After collaborating with some equally cool and non-sneaker related companies in San Francisco, with huge success, Tim and his crew though they would do the same down here in his wool sneakers 'spiritual home', Wellington New Zealand (I'll just get my crystals out, Tim)!
Allbirds struck upon the idea to work with some much-loved foodies and develop some special limited edition shoes with them. Sneakers seem an unlikely pairing with food - I get it - but Tim isn't one to do things the normal way.
This week Allbirds are hosting a series of events (see more below) dreamt up by Tim and his team in Welly, partnering Tim's signature woollen merino sneakers with three ah-mah-zing brands: Coffee Supreme, the Wellington Chocolate Factory and beer makers Garage Project. Together, not only is each brand holding some epic classes giving a behind the scenes glimpse into their respective talents, but Allbirds actually made a signature shoe representing each company. I mean come on! This is mind-blowing levels of Wellington collaborative vibes right there!!
[If you want to nab a pair you'll have to move fast. These puppies are limited edition and only hanging around until they - if you'll excuse the pun - RUN OUT! *ba-boom*. Head to their pop-up shop at Wrestler HQ on Jessie Street over the next week or to the Wellington Airport until March to get your mitts on some very fancy pro-Wellington sneakers. Alternatively, you can browse them online here.]
Allbirds know us Wellingtonians appreciate a bit of quality. So apart from everything else, a quality gathering was also planned. Allbirds really came to the party, hosting with a wee shin-dig on Tuesday night this week at Eva Street. The weather was supposed to behave (story of our lives, Wellington) but decided to pour down. Instead, the party was moved inside to the Wellington Chocolate Factory and a tent was errected next door. It may have been drizzly but it sure didn't dampen the spirit of the punters inside.
Under the tent, Coffee Supreme served up cocktails using their coffee soda syrup and Reid + Reid gin. Garage project poured the beers (having created a limited edition one especially for the occasion) and Wellington Chocolate Factory had new bars of their special collab cacao nib and sea salt bar for everyone to try.
At the back of the tent was a special jeep style truck which was originally used to cart the sheep around the farm. Allbirds customised it with their numberplate and logo, and even found a loyal looking farm dog to stand guard. Good boy!
After several beers, Tim made a wee speech thanking each company for collaborating and noting that they had all been awesome to work with (stop it!). He also marvelled that the company had grown so much in such a short period of time (they only started selling in March 2015).
Apart from anything else it was so love to see some familiar faces from The Residents. I bumped into Kalen who I met last year at the African Fashion Festival, Anna Dean and Angela Meyer from Double Denim and Abby and Lesa from Shut Up and Dance.
Matt was also happy to get in on the action as we admired the sneakers and chatted. We left the night feeling elated and slightly wobbly from Garage Project's beer!
But this isn't the only surprise Allbirds have had in store: On Wednesday I stopped by my Mum and Dad's place and looked out their window to see that Allbirds had done it again. Andrew Steel and Toby Morris had seemingly overnight whipped up another incredible mural in the Ghuznee Street Carpark behind Jam Hairdressing. It was the image from the beer can and chocolate wrapper, come to life on the concrete playground of Welly, full of the classic images that people think of when they think of Welly.
Thursday was even more exciting with a trip to the Wellington Chocolate Factory after work to make some bars. As mentioned above, this is one of three events being hosted by Allbirds at each of the brands that they've collaborated with (and my first time checking out behind the scenes of the choc factory), all announced over their Instagram!
I was especially excited about this as well because I've been lucky enough to be gifted the Wellington Chocolate Factory runner. These purple laces are gonna see me through the Wellington streets, along my other Wellington made clothes such my Wilson Trollope dresses, Okewa Rainwear raincoat and my Meniscus Leather Goods handbag tote. Repin' hard.
The class was split into two groups which swapped half way through. First, we got to hear about co-founder Gabe's dangerous and exciting trip to Bougainville on a Fijian vaka to buy beans direct from the farmer for making chocolate. It was supposed to take 6 weeks but it ended up taking four months!
Even more excitingly than his stories, we nibbled cured meats and sipped prosecco.
Next, up - it was time to try my hand at making some chocolate. We got to see the huge vats where the chocolate is tempered to the right temperature so it has that signature snap from the Wellington Chocolate Factory. We also got a chance to pour some into moulds and make our own bars. Safe to stay, I should stick to blogging, not chocolate making!
I didn't mind the #ootd though! I feel like I worked it well.
Chocolate permeated our nostrils as we wandered through the rooms, guided by the lovely Steph and Oliver. They explained how the chocolate is wrapped by hand, meaning they can only work up to a certain number of bars, unlike most factories. Steph and Oliver also showed us the room where the chocolate ages which was fascinating.
At the end, we all got to wrap our self-made chocolate, neatly instructed by the wonderful factory staff. Everyone agreed it has been an incredible event and was MOST excited to run quickly home and eat it. Luckily, we all know where we can get a decent pair of shoes from...
Thank you Wellington Chocolate Factory and Allbirds for a wonderful Thursday evening!
Disclosure: This blog post contains a paid advertisement from Allbirds. As always, all opinions are my own.