The RW Takeaway: Oiselle branches out from apparel, releasing its first running shoe in collaboration with Allbirds and illustrator Mia Saine.
- Women’s running apparel company Oiselle has teamed up with Allbirds to release a special edition of the Tree Dasher, the shoe brand’s debut trainer
- Printed on the sugarcane-based SweetFoam midsole and on the footbed are Memphis-based artist Mia Saine’s diverse ensemble of characters wearing Oiselle apparel
- The shoe is exclusively sold on the Allbirds app and Oiselle’s website.
A couple nights ago, I went to Oiselle’s website to check out the summer collection when I saw an enticing prompt with a subscribe button. “Is that footsteps we hear?” it teased.
Last July, I spoke with Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen via Zoom about the brand’s debut footwear release, the Oiselle Sport Sandal. Initially, Bergesen had toyed with the idea of developing a running shoe but shifted the focus on designing a recovery sandal, instead. Turns out, however, that a Oiselle running shoe was already underway. That spring, Bergesen and the flock had established a partnership with Allbirds to create a special edition of the Tree Dasher, the brand’s first running shoe, featuring illustrations by Memphis, Tennessee, artist Mia Saine.
A Different Kind of Trainer
Bergesen had reached out to Allbirds the old-fashioned way, dropping into their customer service inbox to see if they would be interested in collaborating on a special project.
“We found that we were very aligned, especially around the ways in which running can and should become more accessible,” said Bergesen. “They’re kind of an interesting blend, right? Because they have the technical chops, the funding, and the resources to make a really great running shoe, but they’re not approaching it from the elite side per se. That was really fun to work: a new player in the running shoe world.”
Runner-in-Chief Jeff Dengate had gotten a sample of Allbirds’s Tree Dasher before its 2020 release.
“It feels reasonably soft—not like a squishy foam that would immediately pack out, nor denser stuff that is overly hard,” Dengate said, describing the sugarcane-based SweetFoam midsole. “I loved the shape of the shoe: It’s snug through the midfoot but opens up generously across the ball of the foot, and the last doesn’t cut in much on the big toe side of the shoe. It’s a comfortable fit that would likely remain accommodating even on long runs.”
While the shoe may not be a first choice for racing, due to a slightly clunky midsole, it has a supportive ride for training and recovery runs. The eucalyptus-fiber knit upper is soft, stretchy, and durable, with no overlays or logos to weigh it down; in a nutshell, the look is subtle and clean. It’s a good dressed-up walker, too, especially with a comfy microfiber lining interior.
Assembling a Cast of Characters
Bergesen contacted Saine after seeing their playful characters on Instagram. “Mia’s work just really stuck out to me as being very joyful, very colorful, but also very inclusive,” she said.
Saine’s ensemble of 12 characters are stamped on the shoe’s midsole and footbed; in conjunction with the shoe release, a water bottle, bag, and top also feature their artwork. If you look closely, you can see the characters are all of different ethnicities, and that they have different body shapes—last year, Oiselle expanded their sizing to 26—and different body types. One of them wears a hijab, while another has a prosthetic leg. Each figure is wearing Oiselle apparel (I spied the Flyte long-sleeve and Start Line graphic tee) as they engage in some kind of activity, including running, weight-lifting, and stretching.
“[Mia and I] started talking about the concept of how running and sports can and should be more inclusive and representative,” said Bergesen. “And I told them ‘invite, include, and represent’ is kind of Oiselle’s mantra. That’s when we landed on this idea of a little family of characters.”
For a time, Bergesen and her team called it the “womxn print.” But they changed tact after noticing a lot of online discussion on how some trans/non-binary runners prefer the original spelling.
“We had a long conversation with folks about it, including Run 4 All Women, which we partnered with on Womxn Run the Vote, and we used the X there, but ultimately we decided that we wanted to redefine women to be truly more inclusive,” she said.
The hints of yellow on the eyelets and outsole go with Oiselle’s current apparel theme, signifying how, with this lemon of a past year, we took it in strides and made lemonade. But the true message in this shoe’s design, according to Bergesen, is a re-education of what it means to be a part of the running community.
“So many of us feel like we’ve been on this journey of unlearning and relearning what it means to be running, running as a sport, and how much better it can do,” she said “It’s fine to be excited about the elite side, but the biggest difference the sport can make is with people who maybe haven’t traditionally fit in that story—or, haven’t felt that they fit, is probably the more accurate way to describe it.”
The limited edition shoe is available now, you can buy it on Allbirds app or Oiselle’s website. And for even more Tree Dasher color options, head to the Allbirds website.
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