Sustainable Shoes (That Actually Look Good): Our Ultimate Guide
Why should you invest in sustainable or vegan shoes?
Every year, around 330m pairs of shoes are sold in the UK. Most of these are sent to landfill. It’s time to step up and into some ethical footwear.
Wed 8 Apr 2020
What kind of sustainable shoes are out there? Which ones are best? And why is it so important to buy ethical footwear anyway?
Our ultimate sustainable shoes list covers brands for every taste and tread.
Here's why they are the best investment you could make for your feet and the planet they walk on.
If you're looking just for vegan shoes - here's our ultimate guide to cruelty free footwear.
Why Should We Buy Sustainable Shoes?
According to The Ethical Consumer and Greenpeace’s Journal, ‘Unearthed’, if the demand for fast fashion continues to grow at its current rate, we could see the total carbon footprint of our clothing reach 26% by 2050.
Shoes have a significant foothold in this problem.
In a Guardian article, Professor Shahin Rahimifard, head of the Centre for Smart, predicted that of the gargantuan ‘330m pairs [of shoes] sold in the UK per year, most will eventually go to landfill’.
Sustainable shoes are top of pebble’s list of priorities, as part of our commitment to slow fashion.
We’ve interviewed sustainable designers, made friends with mums and grans who have shared amazing old school fashion hacks and reported on the latest innovations in the eco fashion industry. Essentially, we want to help everyone get clad in eco-friendly attire from head to toe!
Shoes And Fast Fashion
Unethical footwear is often left out of arguments against fast fashion. Yet, the shoe industry is a key, powerful and stubborn offender when it comes to climate change.
The focus tends to fall on the fibres and the environmentally detrimental manufacture, mass production and disposal of garments, but footwear follows many of the same processes.
Shoes are coveted and consumed as much as clothes by fashion lovers. What’s more, like clothing, many are produced:
- Extremely cheaply
- Using scarce resources
- By exploited and underpaid workers
- With toxic materials and substances
Poor quality shoes also often contain a huge amount of contaminating, non-recyclable plastic and are worn only a handful of times before they are sent to landfill.
Why Are Some Shoes Bad For The Environment?
In an effort to make shoes sturdier and more shock absorbent, many manufacturers build their soles from combinations of many different plastics and metals.
According to this article, when shoes reach the end of their life, some soles can take as long as 1,000 years to break down in landfill.
This is totally unsustainable for the earth, but luckily forward thinking shoe brands are combating it.
Take Timberland. They have partnered with Soles 4 Souls to create their Second Chance Program. Once you’ve stopped wearing your Timberland footwear, you can send it back to the brand, which will carefully process the materials and repurpose them.
When shoes reach the end of their life, some soles can take as long as 1,000 years to break down in landfill
Buying Sustainable Shoes Is A Simple Way To Fight Fast Fashion
Do you still assume most ethical attire will look as if it's knitted from yoghurt? Slow fashion has caught up. Sustainable and vegan shoes are becoming ever more widely available, as you will see from our extensive ultimate guide.
Which Sustainable Shoes Are The Right Fit For You?
Now you know why sustainable shoes are so important, which ones are you going to choose?
If you haven’t done so already, it's worth devoting some thought to which element of sustainability is most important to you and why.
Are you determined that your new eco-friendly footwear is not responsible for putting any more plastic into the planet?
Or, do you care more about supporting the latest technological and ethical advancements in footwear production?
You’ll find eco-friendly summer sandals, sustainable sneakers for men and women, and so many other shoes made from ethical materials for every style. Plus ethical shoes made of everything from apples to ocean plastics below.
If you're just looking for vegan shoes then pop over here to our ultimate vegan shoe guide.
Once you’ve figured out which pair you want and made your exciting sustainable investment, let us know which shoes you went for and why. We’d love to hear your reviews and thoughts in our Facebook community.
Sustainable Shoes (That Actually Look Good): Our Ultimate Guide
A Day's March
Swedish brand A Day's March is a sustainable shoe brand that's all about affordable basics that stand the test of time, rather than bend with trends. It's slow fashion for the style-conscious. The brand's trainers are subtle and low-key and produced in an ethically-certified factory in Portugal. While they're not vegan, the shoes are made fairly and made to last.
LA based Allbirds has become a firm favourite amongst ethical trainer-lovers, and it’s no surprise as these sustainable shoes hit a home run. Made from superfine merino wool, the comfy trainers use 60% less energy to make, have laces made from post-consumer recycled plastic and come in recycled cardboard packaging. Allbirds is a carbon neutral company and now label each pair of shoes with the carbon footprint.
Ardsly aren’t just about brightly-coloured marketing campaigns and eye-catching Instagram posts (though they are particularly good at these) - they really walk the eco walk. All of the soles are cut directly from post-consumer reclaimed car and van tyres, while the rest of the materials are a combination of off-cut and locally sourced leathers. The brand make their stylish designs genderless and each pair are shipped totally plastic-free.
Looking for the perfect pair of ethical espadrilles for spring and summer? Look no further than French brand Atelier Aliénor, who handcraft a range of classic espadrilles using natural materials. The premium leather comes from a tannery in France that shares their values of craftsmanship and sustainability, where only byproducts are used and cleaner production techniques are continually invested in. We can feel the sun already.
Spring 2020 collection launching end of April
Baabuk is a great example of just how versatile wool can be. Drawing from the traditional Russian ‘Valenki’ shoe design, they produce a range of unisex slippers and trainers made from 100% felted wool. With their own ethical factories in Nepal and Portugal, the shoes use wool from happy, local sheep, so you can enjoy truly comfortable feet knowing you’re contributing to a positive socio-economic impact. Nothing woolly here.
Deux Mains was born from nonprofit organisation REBUILD globally, which tackles poverty in Haiti through dignified work opportunities. A small training centre teaching women to make sustainable sandals from old tyres became a thriving brand, where the tyres are paired with locally sourced leathers and fabrics and brought to life into beautiful eco-friendly footwear. Deux Mains turns poverty into prosperity by using living wage employment for all of their talented artisans.
Fortress Of Inca
Peruvian based Fortress of Inca always work with family-owned and operated factories and workshops, and ensure working conditions are safe with fair pay for all workers. Originally inspired by authentic Peruvian boots, the quality of materials and craftsmanship is combined with sustainable production and versatile designs, creating shoes that step up the style game without stepping all over the planet.
Devon-based sustainable brand, Green Shoes, manufacture on a small scale in order to lower their environmental impact, and stepping into a pair of these handmade shoes make you instantly feel more in touch with the earth. As well as ready to wear pieces the brand offers a truly bespoke service, where a unique pair of shoes can be made in your choice of colour, material size and even width. Easy, no?
Previously known as Mamahuhu, Handmade Barcelona offer beautifully handcrafted footwear made with premium leather from bi-products of the food industry. Inspired by local traditions of Spanish culture, this sustainable shoe brand’s ethos is all about supporting communities and helping artisans to reach a place of being able to thrive and gain a sense of work pride and accomplishment. Comfy, super stylish and reasonably priced - what more could you ask for?
A Sustainable Shoe Success Story
" Several years ago I made a monumental life decision. I was going to invest in some Doc Martens. Yep, they’re expensive, but I wanted some staple shoes I could live in and would last. I’d only just started to learn about vegetarianism at the time, but the shop assistant assured me the vegan range was good quality, so I took her word for it," says Phoebe Young, ediorial assistant at pebble.
"Now that I’m vegan and much more involved in sustainable living my durable docs are one of the best investments I’ve ever made. They’ve lasted me 5 years, saved me money and they’re still so comfy. It’s great to wear something almost everyday that I know is helping the fashion industry walk away from animal cruelty and climate change."
Juta Shoes are a social enterprise based in East London. Their mission centres around empowering women who face employment challenges, by offering training and well-paid work making handcrafted espadrilles and a supportive community. As well as supporting meaningful employment, these bespoke shoes are made using sustainable materials including upcycled leather and eco-friendly jute.
HIking and outdoor shoe specialists, KEEN, are very keen on the environment, which is why they've made lots of changes to how their shoes are created. They've ditched PVC (often used to make shoes waterproof), use natural probiotics in their insoles to stop shoes smelling and use natural tanneries to create leather than is less toxic and wasteful. Their hiking boots are made to last too - these guys will see you through many adventures.
Even the skate shoe has had an ethical makeover. Sustainable German shoes brand Langbrett are formed from a group of surfers and nature lovers, with the motto “buy less but better”. These guys like to spend their free time in the great outdoors, and are passionate about protecting it by producing uncompromisingly ethical products. Their unisex shoes are made from chrome-free leather, lined with organic cotton fleece and made with recycled cork soles.
U.S. sustainable shoes brand Nisolo use traditional Peruvian shoemaking techniques to produce their shoes, with their own factory in the ‘shoemaking capital’ of Trujillo, as well as partner manufacturers in Mexico and Kenya. We love how much Nisolo look after and support every one of their workers, ensuring even beyond fair wages for their producers. Their leather is responsibly sourced from ethical tanneries, who also have eco-friendly waste disposal systems.
Currently only ships within the U.S.
Norm's comfy looking trainers are made of 90% recycled plastic and each pair use up six plastic bottles, if you want to count your eco-impact after buying a pair. Made in Portugal at an ethical factory, they have a much, much smaller carbon footprint to mose mainstream trainers, 80% less in fact. Plus each pair sold plants two trees, so you can feel good as well as look good.
Novesta is an eco-friendly footwear brand from Slovakia that have been making sustainable and stylish yet casual shoes for nearly a century. They care about our environment, work hard to uphold ethical production practices and use materials such as sustainably grown natural rubber and 100% cotton and linen. With every pair finished by hand, Novesta are a perfect everyday choice for no-fuss trainers.
Canadian brand Oliberté’s first pair of sustainable shoes shoes were handcrafted in Ethiopia, in what would eventually become the first Fairtrade certified footwear factory in the world. They recently began manufacturing locally in Canada, and continue to uphold their vision of contributing towards creating a better world for those who will walk in our footsteps. Local leathers are used to create a variety of handcrafted styles, which sing of rustic charm.
Palladium’s ethical boots have a fascinating history, but focus on looking after our future at the same time. Initially a creator of airplane tyres in the 1920s, Palladium have stayed at the heart of the action, with their original pampa boot still a customer favourite today. Updated for modern day explorers, their Pampa Hi Organic range offers a variety of coloured organic cotton canvas, and even feature biodegradable lace tips.
Who said fashion and comfort can’t go hand in hand? Ponto are putting their best foot forward to expose this for the old wives’ tale it really is. This multi-occasion sustainable shoe features the qualities of a trainer, but in the design of a traditional dress shoe. Made from recycled leather trimmings and algae-based foam, no one would guess you just ran from boardroom to bar in these.
Full shoe line set to release June 2020.
Poppy Barley spotted a gap in the market they like to call ‘the luxury gap’ - a space between cheaply made, disposable shoes and logo-laden footwear at excessive prices. Within this space they manufacture chic, ethically made shoes at accessible prices, and ensure their factories maintain positive working conditions and fair pay for all workers. Any leftover products won’t go to waste either - they’re either recycled or donated to charities.
Ethical shoe leader Po-Zu pair carefully selected natural and sustainable materials like coconut fibre and organic cotton with a revolutionary ‘Foot Mattress’ in their products, ensuring ultimate comfort and support. These guys work hard to take care of your feet and the planet, with a mission to create shoes that are designed to last, and in fair and healthy working conditions. Check out how they make their shoes in this, How to create a sustainable sneaker in 6 steps.
Raum are on a mission to take us back to Mother Nature. Made from natural materials, their gorgeously soft handmade sustainable slip on shoes feature a copper rivet through the soles, so that you experience optimum electron uptake - as if you were barefoot. All leather used is from bi-products of the food industry, and you’ll find no harmful chemicals in their materials.
Sylven New York
Sylven New York like to offer the best of both worlds. They believe there’s a place for both vegan and leather footwear, so long as they are both created responsibly. Using vegetable-tanned leather means the material remains fully biodegradable, while its properties make for long-lasting, durable shoes that you won’t need to replace anytime soon. Off-cuts are never wasted either - excess sole rubber is simply melted down to be used again.
Footwear giant Timberland produce a variety of eco-friendly styles for their Earthkeepers range, so you can explore the earth with comfy feet and an eco-friendly footprint at the same time. From materials made of recycled content like recycled rubber and their own ReBOTL technology, (from recycled plastics) to leather made in sustainable certified tanneries, there’s something for every eco-conscious Timberland fan here.
Now a household name, sustainable shoes brand TOMS aren’t just for Venice Beach anymore. Known for their One for One™ campaign, where every pair of shoes bought is matched with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need, they have continued to expand and now dedicate at least one-third of their annual profits to a giving fund. And don’t worry - they still make sure you’re always spoiled for choice.
TOMS have a new range out this spring, earthwise, which uses chemical free inks, insoles made with 26% eco-content and linings from wood pulp.
One of our favourite eco brands, Tretorn, offer an amazing range of sustainable footwear, from sturdy, waterproof boots to sleek, casual trainers. Swedish design sings through everything Tretorn do, and we love their 100% sustainable trainers influenced by the polished tennis shoes of the 1960s. Made with natural and recycled rubber, the ‘Nylite’ style come with a flash of (your choice) of colour and plenty of Scandi-cool.
Say hello to Two Degrees, where boat shoes aren’t just for boats. These comfy deck shoes for men are made with European sourced bio-leather, meaning it’s biodegradable and tanned using a bio-process free from heavy metals. As well as their eco-friendly materials, every pair sold protects 1,000 square feet of endangered habitat around the world.
“Eco-friendly from sole to box” is the commitment Vada stand for. Not only are their materials completely sustainable, but the stylish designs mean you can walk from one season straight into another wearing these ethically produced shoes. They offer all year round comfort too - the cruelty-free alpaca wool is naturally temperature regulating, light and breathable, while the recycled outsoles are flexible and durable.
We doubt we even need to introduce you to the mavens of ethically-made trainers (both vegan and non vegan), stylishly sustainable French label Veja. You won’t find an eco-fashionista without at least one pair of these, and it’s not hard to see why. Made in Brazil since day one in fair conditions for each employee, Veja use organic materials, plus cork and Pinatex, and offer transparency throughout their production process.
Vivo Barefoot want to get your feet as close to the earth as possible, with a thin yet supportive and comfy sole. These minimal footwear guys hope to help you to connect to the natural world and become more aware of your body with every step. The thoughtful design process paired with sustainable materials and ethical production practices create shoes that are a perfect combination of simplicity, functionality and durability.
New sustainable trainer brand, Waes, take things up a notch. Minimal, low slung and must have, Waes forge a new path for style conscious eco-friendly shoppers. They reckon they're the first zero-waste, plastic-free sneakers using natural rubber, organic cotton and hemp stiching - and the shoes are completely biodegradable. We love the white Hope range which comes with a choice of retro coloured trims.
Are you itching to get into your new sustainable shoes now? Hopefully you’ve seen a pair that’s a perfect fit for your style, your principles and your feet. We’re excited to hear which you’re going for and why.
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