Sustainable shoe brands from flats made of recycled plastic bottles such as Rothy’s to eco-friendly sneakers such as Veja – the Duchess of Sussex’ sustainable Royal Tour wardrobe has got us all rethinking ethical footwear…
Sustainable shoe brands are more coveted than ever before. The horrifying impact of the fast fashion industry exposed by documentaries such as The True Cost and Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets has inspired us all to dress more ethically – but how does that filter down to our feet? Footwear manufacturing can be fraught with many of the same ethical, social and environmental issues as clothing production – labour rights, fast fashion, plastic pollution, animal welfare, waste and recycling – heightened by the fact that shoes are made of so many different components, frequently contain animal-derived materials, and often come with performance requirements. This can make finding a fully sustainable pair of shoes that fit, look great and won’t compromise your values, a challenge.
Yet a growing number of brands are rising up to this challenge, shaking up the shoe industry with innovative, environmentally-friendly materials, transparent supply chains, and traditional, artisanal craftmanship. What’s more, compromising on style is no longer the only option.
If you’re looking for stylish shoe brands that are founded on sustainable values and working hard on their environmental footprint – here are some that you need to know:
Best shoes for Sport – Vivobarefoot
London-based start-up Vivobarefoot is shaking up the shoe industry… and for good reason. Its goal is to make the world’s most sustainable shoe, while surpassing the high-performance quality of other traditional shoe brands. In pursuit of this goal, Vivobarefoot has created revolutionarily light shoes, crafted to integrate ‘as little shoe as possible’ into the overall design, therefore liberating your feet from discomfort while maintaining perfect levels of performance. Their commitment to quality is matched by their sustainable credentials of which there are many: it plans to use 90% sustainable materials in production by 2020, it’s shoes are vegan (in some cases constructed using materials as innovative as repurposed algae), and it promotes connecting the producer and consumer through sponsoring international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, the Ethical Trading Iniative and Better Work Global/Cambodia. This is all achieved while limiting waste in the supply chain, with over 2 million plastic bottles recycled to date.
Vivobarefoot’s shoes are made to last, and its flexibility and resistance make it the perfect quality sporting sustainable shoe.
Best Shoes for Comfort – Allbirds
For stylishly conscious shoes you can wear all day every day, check out Allbirds – the footwear startup that counts Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor and has been worn by the likes of Mila Kunis, Witney Port and Jennifer Garner.
A certified Australian B-Corp, Allbirds takes natural, sustainable materials and creates minimalist, logo-free shoes that are both comfortable and quietly cool. The brand’s original Wool collection, available as ‘Runners’, a lace up sneaker, and ‘Loungers’ (a slip-on), have a superfine merino wool upper – the manufacturing process behind which consumes 60% less energy than typical trainers. The Tree collection features runners, loungers and Skippers (a low riding sneaker-meets-boat shoe) made using ethically sourced Eucalyptus fibres, which use only 5% of the water and one-third of the land compared to traditional footwear materials.
Both collections have laces made from recycled plastic bottles and an insole derived from castor beans. Continually innovating, this summer, Allbirds introduced its SweetFoamTM sole made from sugarcane and containing a carbon negative alternative to the traditionally petroleum-based foam that is widely used in casual footwear.
Best for Sustainable Sneakers – Veja
For ethical kicks fit for a Duchess, try French/Brazilian brand Veja, which has been making environmentally friendly sneakers since 2005. Each stage of production is infused with a positive impact and footwear is made with raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture, without chemicals or polluting processes. Choose from the vegan organic cotton or leather trainers, both with wild Amazonian rubber soles and organic cotton lining.
Best for Vegan shoes – Nae
To avoid the use of animal-derived product (usually leather and animal-based glue when it comes to shoes), vegan shoes are often made from oil-based synthetic materials such as PU and PVC. Needless to say, these are not the most environmentally-friendly materials in terms of production and lifecycle. This means that while animal welfare is high on the agenda of vegan footwear, claims of sustainability frequently raise question marks.
Nae (No Animal Exploitation) is a vegan shoe brand that is championing innovative materials such as Piñatex®, recycled airbags, cork and recycled plastic bottles in their styles. Nae shoes are produced in certified Portuguese factories and come in a wide range of styles from biker boots to sandals.
Best for Winter Boots – Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather
Emma Watson is a fan of French vegan footwear brand Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather, sporting their white sneakers and black lace-up boots during the Beauty and the Beast press tour. While the materials used in vegan footwear (in this case, microfibres) do raise environmental question marks when it comes to sustainability, Good Guys is taking (foot)steps in the right direction – all of its shoes are cruelty-free and sweatshop-free, produced in a small factory in Portugal in a fair-trade environment using traditional, artisanal techniques. The company also claims to have a fully traceable supply chain and to use raw materials sourced from certified manufacturers in Europe.
Best for Nights Out – Susi Studio
If you’re heading out on the town, Susi Studio‘s heels are as good as they are glam. Susi Studio is based in Los Angeles and designs ‘vegan footwear for the modern woman’. Its shoes, which range from high heels to flat sandals, are made with materials like hemp and faux leather produced from recycled plastic bottles. Claiming a transparent supply chain, the company works closely with the artisans working in its factories in Portugal and Hong Kong (which is owned and operated entirely by women). Bianca, the Susi Studio founder, visits both factories regularly and the brand evaluates factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment.
Best for Luxury Craftmanship – Ferragamo
For luxury footwear in classic styles, see Salvatore Ferragamo – iconic for its Made in Italy craftmanship and high quality footwear. At this year’s Green Carpet Fashion Awards, Italia, Julianne Moore presented the cobblers of Ferragamo with The Art of Craftsmanship Award for showcasing great innovation while preserving the heritage of production that dates back centuries.
Best for the Whole Family – Po-Zu
Po-Zu shoes for men, women and children are made using materials from naturally renewable sources and are responsibly harvested. Materials include Piñatex, organic cotton, wool, cork, chrome free leather, Coir (a mix of coconut husk and natural latex) and natural latex, to offer both durability and comfort while causing minimum environmental impact. Po-Zu shoes contain no pesticides, bleaches or toxic dyes and are made in carefully-sourced factories where workers are treated with respect, paid a fair wage and protected from harm.
Best for Everyday Flats – Rothy’s
These recycled-plastic bottle flats set tongues wagging when the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle was spotted wearing a pair of Rothy’s on the beach during the Royal Tour in Australia. Co-founders Stephen and Roth set out to close a gap in the market by producing sustainable shoes for women that were also comfortable and stylish. Rothy’s staple flat shoes are made of knitted 100% post-consumer plastic water bottles, with recycled foam insoles from other recycled shoes, carbon-free rubber soles and vegan and non-toxic adhesives.
Best for a Pop of Colour – Rafa
Rafa’s bright and colourful heels, flats, mules and ankle boots are perfect for adding a splash of colour to your look, without compromising your values. The luxury women’s footwear collection is hand-crafted by a group of 20 artisans in Los Angeles, using vegan recycled materials.
Best for All Seasons – Osklen
From pointed mules and ankle boots, to sliders, sandals, and sneakers, Osklen, by designer Oskar Metsavaht, repurposes innovative waste materials such pirarucu and salmon skins to create stylish footwear to suit all seasons. Osklen’s overarching concept ASAP (as sustainable as possible, as soon as possible) emphasizes the urgency of adopting sustainable practices and outlooks in fashion.
Best for Giving Back – TOMS
TOMS is a UK-based, B-Corp certified brand that makes ethical footwear that gives back. With every shoe that is purchased the brand helps a person in need – One for One®. TOMS has various programmes that give back, including helping to provide access to water, safe birth and helping give sight.
Best for DIY – Juta Shoes
Juta shoes is a London-based social enterprise that makes bespoke espadrilles from reclaimed leather. You can even design your own or buy a shoe making kit to DIY it at home.
Best for Traditional Footwear – Ottowin Footwear
Born out of a love for traditional footwear, Ottowin Footwear was founded in 2016 and makes long lasting luxury shoes with locally-sourced, vegetable-tanned leather. The footwear is made with only four components, but it takes up to three weeks to fully complete a pair.
Best for Strutting – Tropas
Tropas create cool denim-style heels and sneakers, re-purposed from post-consumer jeans. The shoes are not only perfect for strutting your stuff, but they can be easily disassembled and recycled. Returning your used shoes to Tropas means that it will be entirely repurposed!
Best for Business – Zingales
Zingales create cruelty-free elegant footwear for men. The shoes are made entirely by hand, without any leather or animal by-product, using a production method that is in compliance with ethical and environmental principles.
For more footwear inspiration, check out our favourite stylish and ethical sneakers.
Read our interview with Allbirds Co-Founder Tim Brown in Bringing Business to Life: Allbirds
Feeling inspired? Browse our full catalogue of recommended brands.