What is sustainable footwear?
When we think about sustainable fashion, we often neglect to think about sustainable footwear. However, sneaker manufacturing requires extensive labor, processes, machines, energy, and materials, and the footwear industry more generally is infamous for its ruthless extraction of raw, non-renewable materials and excessive production of hazardous waste. Conventional shoes are made of a mix of plastics, leather, petroleum, and textiles glued together, making them nearly impossible to recycle. Additionally, PVC, a pollutant and known carcinogen, is commonly found in shoes. Oftentimes, shoes are not made to last, falling apart quickly after use and resulting in massive amounts of waste. The effect of this waste is staggeringly large. As for sneakers alone, over 300 million pairs are thrown away annually and it takes over 40 years for a single pair of sneakers to decompose in the landfill.
Many ethical brands are challenging the conventional footwear industry with their sustainable footwear options. Brands and consumers are starting to take notice of who made their shoes, what they are made from, and their durability and transparency. Sustainable footwear options are made by workers who are treated fairly and materials that are obtained ethically. Brands should use sustainable materials, like recycled materials, up-cycled waste, or renewable fibers. Sustainable brands exhibit transparency throughout the process of making and selling their shoes. Most importantly, sustainable footwear needs to be long lasting; the right pair of shoes can last you years and be good for both you and the planet. Below is a list of ten sustainable footwear options, so that you can put your best foot forward the next time you're buying a pair of shoes.
Top 10 Sustainable Footwear Brands
Keep reading to learn more about each of these sustainable footwear brands!
Price range: $100-150
Veja is one of the most popular sustainable footwear brands. This french brand offers 25 styles of comfortable, minimalistic, sustainable sneakers. They are B Corp certified and focus on renewable materials. Veja’s materials are FloCert certified which ensures there are no toxic or polluting elements in the shoes. Their transparent website allows consumers to see a product's chemical tests and organic certification documents. All of their dyes meet European REACH standards. Veja uses a variety of sustainable materials including recycled PET, organic cotton, chrome-free leather, organic jut, and recycled cotton. They also use a B mesh fabric which is made of recycled polyester and plastic bottles. Additionally, one-third of their products are 100% vegan.
Veja works directly with manufacturers, cutting out the middle man from their operations. The company buys rubber at twice the market price, and their producers only harvest the rubber once a year to allow trees to regenerate. Something I love about Veja is that they don’t use ads, brand ambassadors, or billboards. Instead, they spend time working on improving production. Eliminating the cost of advertising allows their sneakers to retail at a more affordable price even though their materials and fair trade production make them more expensive to produce. Veja doesn’t rely on marketing hype to have an impact. Their sustainable impact is reality, not fiction.
Price Range: $90-150
Allbirds is a B Corp certified brand that uses natural materials to create a variety of shoes for both men and women. Their styles range from boat shoes and running shoes to flats, slip-ons, and more. Allbirds is the first brand to create a carbon-negative green EVA foam midsole, eliminating the harmful petrochemicals found in traditional designs. Allbirds is 100% carbon neutral and labels every product's carbon footprint, and every product page says where that shoe was made. Their renewable materials include FSC certified Tencel, eucalyptus tree, castor bean oil, and sustainable sourced Merino wool. Allbirds uses recycled plastic bottle shoelaces and recycled carbon packaging. Allbirds is a great sustainable footwear option that helps people to “tread lighter on Mother Earth.”
Price Range: $79-159
Cariuma shoes are high-quality and feature timeless designs made with sustainable materials. Cariuma holds a number of sustainable certifications (including Global Recycling Standard and Leather Working Group) and has established a Reforestation Program in Brazil. You can truly feel good about your Cariuma purchase; when you buy a pair of their sneakers, Cariuma plants two trees in Brazilian rainforest. Their sustainable materials include FSC certified bamboo, ethically tapped rubber, GOTS Organic cotton, sugarcane EVA, cork, mamona oil, recycled PET, and Leather Working Group certified leather. They use responsible, recyclable packaging as well, their shoebox doubling as a shipping box. Cariuma ensures no harmful chemicals are in their shoes by using only Bluesign certified chemicals for their dyes. 65% of their shoes are vegan, a solid percentage that is climbing annually.
Price Range: $80-500
If you're looking for a unique aesthetic, Vendura’s recycled fishnet shoes are a great option. Vendura is committed to creating a cleaner and less polluted sea. To achieve this, Vendura recovers, and then subsequently utilized, fishing nets in the EU directly from ports. Due to their ability to capture young fish, these narrow gauge nylon fishing nets are banned. Once collected by Vendura, the fishing nets are briefly treated to soften the material, but the overall design of the netting is untouched, creating a unique and textured look and feel. Further, the netting is dyed only with natural pigments and combined with cork. The company has two versions of their insoles, recycled rubber (vegan option!) and recycled leather. Vedura offers their up-cycled shoes for women, men, and children in a variety of styles including boots, slip ons, and sandals.
Bhava is known for their sustainable vegan non-toxic leather. This leather brand is perfect for vegan shoppers. Their most popular shoe is the durable “Hiker” boots. Additionally, Bhava carries other women’s shoes like booties, heels, clogs, sandals, and flats. They are committed to only using vegan leather that doesn't harm animals, the environment, or the planet as a whole. Bhava’s Italian vegan leather does not contain any PVC, aromatic amines, PCP, formaldehyde, phthalates, azo-dyes, or chrome. Aside from vegan leather, Bhava uses other eco friendly materials as well. Their shoes are made from a soft eco-suede lining, organic cotton, hand painted embossed cork, and recycled microfibers. Under each product, the manufacturer is listed in the description, which helps ensure transparency. Bhava produces high-quality vegan footwear that is handmade by artisans.
Indosole is another great vegan sustainable footwear brand that specializes in sandals, flip flops, and slip-ons for the whole family. The founders of Indosole saw an issue with the massive amount of tire waste in the world. This waste is particularly alarming as it is extremely difficult for tires to decompose. To make the issue more dire, developing countries burn tires for cheap fuel which releases extremely toxic oils and fumes into the environment. Since the brand's inception, Indosole has helped utilize tire waste sustainably. Their shoes are built from recycled tire waste that is then ground down into a "tire powder". Since the supply of used tires is practically never ending, this is a sustainable material choice. In addition, Indosole's shoes contain only natural dyes and no harmful chemicals or toxins. The brand is B Corp certified and ethically sourced and manufactured. Indosole’s breathable and durable recycled rubber sandals are perfect for your summer ensemble.
Nae is a great vegan sustainable footwear brand that focuses on creative design and eco-friendly materials. Their name, NAE, stands for No Animal Exploitation. The brand's vegan materials include organic cotton, cork, recycled PET, OEKO Tex vegan leather, and piñatex (pineapple leaf fiber). They offer women's, mens', and unisex shoes as well as accessories. Nae features a range of footwear styles including boots, sneakers, and loafers. The Portuguese brand uses a CO2 free manufacturing system and ethical production.
With Munjoi, you get four shoes in one! The brand's unique take on sustainability focuses on buying less shoes to create less waste. Munjoi only offers one unisex shoe in three colors: black, beige, and orange. However, you can wear their one shoe in an impressive four different ways. By removing the insole and collapsing down the desired toe or heel portions, you can have a sandal, a slide, a mule, or a sneaker. The brand is PETA approved vegan and uses sustainable materials including hemp, organic cotton, bloom algae, and sugarcane. Munjoi shoes are praised for their comfortability and described “like walking on a cloud.” Their shoes are also incredibly light and drainage holes let air and water out easily. for the minimalist, Munjoi is a sustainable dream. They combine sustainability and functionality so that consumers can save money and space and produce less waste.
Saola uses only natural and recycled materials to create comfortable, lightweight and sustainable footwear. They offer a range of sneakers for both men and women. Saola is a member of 1% for the Planet, so each pair purchased directly supports biodiversity preservation. Saola's super comfortable sneakers are designed with sustainable materials like recycled plastic, organic cotton, algae, and cork, their materials meeting GOTS and Global Recycled Standards. The brand is also 100% vegan. If you’re looking for comfortable and chic sustainable sneakers, Saola is a great option.
Designing circularity into every product, Rothy’s focuses on sustainable materials, manufacturing and recycling for their footwear and handbags. The brand has a wide array of products, offering a variety of shoes and bags for men, women and children. Their products are made from recycled plastic, algae based foam, natural rubber, merino wool, castor beans, and hemp. Committed to making a positive impact, Rothy’s has transformed almost 100 million plastic bottles into its signature knit. Further, the brand recently introduced a shoe recycling program where you can recycle your old Rothy’s shoes, in any condition, at all of their store locations. Rothy’s is a great option for sustainable footwear whose actions truly reflect their vision of a better world.