Allbirds’ Kate Ridley on female leadership and the power of creating space for emotion in the corporate world

22 May 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

From spanning a career of 25 years in a male-dominated industry to leading a team of 25 in Allbirds' new creative hub in Portland, Kate Ridley believes success comes down to trusting your intuition and learning to read humans.

Kate Ridley Allbirds
Kate Ridley, chief brand and product officer at Allbirds.

When we think of Allbirds, imagery of rural New Zealand merino and dynamic people with active lifestyles are the primary themes that come to mind. It’s a brand that’s innovative and appeals to people who have hybrid lifestyles; the kind of people that aren’t athletes but they’re not entrenched in corporate culture either, they’re modern go-getters. They’re for practical people who want a product that performs. And while, admittedly, these traits don’t typically rank at the top of lists of the fashion-conscious, how they operate their business, as it turns out, does.

Earlier this year, our digital editor Louise Dunn spoke with Allbirds chief brand and product officer Kate Ridley who tuned in from Allbirds’ new office space in Portland, Oregon U.S., to chat about all things Allbirds. Joining the likes of Nike, Adidas, and UnderArmour in the sneaker hub of the universe, Allbirds’ shift to Portland is exciting for two reasons: it serves as a design and innovation hub for the company; and it makes its mark with a new roster of talented leaders being mostly female-led.

As we exchanged introductions, we learned that despite Ridley’s illustrious role and location, she was in fact, a neighbour from Australia who had dedicated her career working her way up in sports marketing across the world. Prior to joining Allbirds, Ridley served as Adidas North America’s senior vice president of brand where she played an integral role in the development of creative, result-driven marketing programs. Ridley began as a category manager at Adidas and from 2003 to 2012 and 2014 to 2022 held positions of increasing responsibility. The catalyst for Ridley making the move to the certified B corporation began with a serendipitous conversation in 2021 with Allbirds’ head of sustainability Hana Kajimura.

“We were invited to speak on a panel together to discuss the strides that need to be made for the fashion industry to operate more sustainably. We got together for a call prior to the panel to get to know one another better,” she says.

“If you’ve ever chatted with Hana, you know just how inspiring, accomplished, confident, articulate, and yet extremely humble she is. The conversation was so refreshing. When we were next to one another on the panel, sitting next to a group of predominantly women and people of colour, I realised that these are the people driving the sustainability agenda forward in fashion.”

“The next day, I said to my husband that Allbirds is the only other company I’d consider working for.”

Allbirds new Plant Pacers in the Natural White with Blizzard Sole, $235.

During her time with Adidas, Ridley focused specifically on elevating women in sport by increasing their visibility and exposure which unlocked a conversation about women in business and the significance of Allbirds’ female-led team.

According to Ridley, the presence of women in leadership teams at the beginning of her career to today (25 years later) is night and day. She admits that in her 20s, she would often emulate masculine energy because that is how success has been modelled to her. It wasn’t until she was in her early-30s that she saw the value in being herself and leading with authenticity and advocating for other women.

“I’ve always had a very strong intuition. But it took me more than a decade to learn to trust it,” she says.

“In my time in this very male-dominated industry, I’ve seen that intuition isn’t always valued because it’s difficult to quantify. But really, your intuition is your experience speaking to you – recognising patterns over time – and showing you risks and rewards. It’s something I work to recognise in myself, and also in others.”

When questioned on what quality leadership requires, Ridley says that confidence, responsibility, the ability to identify with your team, and being open to new ideas is critical. And sometimes being an effective role model comes down to being vulnerable and saying ‘I don’t have all the answers.’

“Ultimately, everything is about people – our customers, our employees, our partners. People are motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and you have to be attuned to all of them. As employees and leaders, we all want work to better our quality of life, and that often boils down to how you feel.”

At the time of our conversation, Allbirds had just released their Plant Pacers, a classic court sneaker made with 100% plastic-free plant leather. The Pacer, which is also available in an organic cotton canvas, represents Allbirds’ expansion into more contemporary and lifestyle silhouettes. Something we got a taste for in June 2022 when they launched their Allbirds x Rosie Assoulin limited-edition Sugar Sliders, proving that the brand could indeed toe the line between style and substance. Naturally curious, we wanted to know whether there were any more creative collaborations on the cards. Ridley couldn’t comment here, but we instinctively knew it wasn’t so much a no as it was a not yet.

As the interview continued, there was mounting evidence of how Allbirds’ business decisions were guided by their values. Trying to draw out more information on what – or who – could be behind the next limited-edition release, Ridley eloquently responded:

“Our northstar is reversing climate change through better business, so the first filter for any potential partnership is sustainability, and looking at approach and commitment to sustainability. We also look for alignment between our four core values – live curiously, simplify naturally, act intentionally, strive for better – and our partner’s values.”

“Importantly, though, we want to work with partners we enjoy. When you’re having fun, the creative output tends to be better,” Ridley adds.

For some women, successful careers can be found in their own backyards, for others it can take them to emerging centres all over the world. For Ridley, there’s a lot about the Australian culture she misses, not to mention her family. But her commitment to her new environment proves that two things can be true at the same time in pursuit of a career you’re passionate about: “I’ve learned to love Portland and the Pacific Northwest – yes, even the rain, because it gives us super green summers. I’ve built a wonderful community in Portland that I cherish.”

For a brand who began with superfine New Zealand Merino and has since evolved to offer eucalyptus tree fibre knit fabric, sugarcane-based EVA SweetFoam, and plant leather to their global audience, plus a headquarters in San Francisco and now a female-led creative hub in Portland, it’s easy to appreciate the leaps forward Allbirds have made in all manners of their business. Something that as a New Zealand consumer unites us whether we pedal their product or not.

The Plant Pacers are available to shop now from


Sign up & Join
FQ Insider

Unlock exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights, and special offers by becoming an FQ Insider.

Fashion Quarterly Winter 2023 Cover
Fashion Quarterly Winter 2023 Cover

Sign up & Join
FQ Insider

Unlock exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights, and special offers by becoming an FQ Insider.

Sign up to the Fashion Quarterly newsletter.

*Ts&Cs apply.
Find out more at