By Anna Van Der Heidjen
What’s meant by ‘sustainable fashion’ anyway? The truth is, the answer isn’t simple, and it has different definitions and means different things to different people – especially when it comes to sustainable shoe brands. For example, for some, being vegan is enough – after all, veganism means animals’ lives are saved, which is undoubtedly ethical. It means leather tanning is avoided, which is normally eco-friendly. But what about the nasty plastics many vegan brands use? Not so much.
Some claim that it’s better to use organic leather than plastic, as this means not only are the shoes made from leathers discarded by the meat industry, but they’re also naturally tanned and dyed – but of course, vegans would have issues with that.
Yet another way to do sustainable fashion is to wear only secondhand items. That way, no new animals are killed for your shoes, and no new materials are processed. But then, some people find the idea of wearing others’ discarded shoes as being a little too ‘intimate’.
And then there’s the issue of ethics. Even if a shoe is made from biodegradable kitchen waste, if it’s manufactured by children, in sweatshops, or with near-slave labour at any stage of the production process, that is not ok.
So, what’s the best way to define sustainable in terms of footwear? Ultimately, it’s up to you. But knowledge is power, so to help you make the best decision for which footwear you feel most comfortable in – literally and morally – and to help you find shoes and boots that are both functional and fashionable, we present these 8 different sustainable shoe brands with distinctively different approaches to sustainability.
The ultimate ‘Girl Boss’ wardrobe staple is undoubtedly a kickass pair of heels. Towering above all others makes you stand tall and proud, installing a distinct feeling of being ‘in charge’. As women, we have to show solidarity to each other to achieve empowerment, and VEERAH lets you do just that with their cruelty-free and super sustainable shoes.
For instance, the brand actually pays its employees to volunteer up to ten hours a month and dedicates a percentage of its profits to help young girls receive education. A win-win situation we would say! As for style, their vegan shoes are designed to be versatile: you can actually transform some designs by adding accessories to them like tassels or straps to up the glam factor when you leave the office for a night on the town. One shoe, two styles? Sign us up!
With a founder whose roots are French but is currently based in NYC, Coclico’s shoes could only be defined by city chic, with their combination of urban aesthetic mixed with strong ethics. Brand owner Sandra Canselier ensures her label is as ethical as possible by being on a first-name basis with the small businesses and artisan suppliers of the organically tanned leathers that she works with, to ensure transparency and fairness throughout the production chain. Apart from using eco-leathers and sustainable woods, Coclico focuses on slow consumption by striving for longevity in design and product quality. The shoes need to be able to be worn for ages, so they are durable and, with their signature minimalistic asymmetrical lines, they are not likely to go out of style anytime soon, either.
Artisanal traditions from old world Italy get a slight twist with this vegan shoe brand. It caters to both men and women who are searching for bespoke-looking shoes, with attention to details, but made out of the world’s most eco-friendly cruelty-free materials, which beautifully imitate the look of patent leather, suede and other refined textiles. The classically European men’s shoes are chic enough to be worn with a tailor-made suit, whilst the women’s styles are uniquely elegant.
It doesn’t get much more eco than Bead and Reel’s The Rescued Collection, where pre-loved sustainable fashion items are lovingly restored before being sold. Everything you find here is vintage and eco-friendly and cruelty-free, since Bead and Reel was created as a webshop for stylish vegans. You’ll find everything from sandals to trainers here, all of which are meticulously cleaned and left in excellent condition. Oh, and did we mention they also sell rescued clothing?
Shoe designer Rebecca Mink and PETA president Ingrid Newkirk were appalled to know that a lot of top brands harm animals in order to create “luxurious” clothing and accessories. Wanting to approach fashion differently, they teamed up to create this collection of footwear that’s not only pretty, but it’s fully customizable. That’s right – you can get made-to-order shoes that are completely vegan friendly. Personally, I’d go for the pump with a slightly higher heel for work, in black matte material, and opt for some black flats in fake ostrich skin for every day use.
Good news: the coolest ever sneakers are completely eco-friendly. Vegan brand Veja makes conscious decisions throughout the entire production process to create sporty classics, like the ’90’s all-white sneaker and their punky old school Converse style sneakers. Veja’s soles are made with wild rubber – so there were no trees cut to create plantations – and the tops are made from all sorts of recycled and organic fabrics. This is a brand that seriously walks the walk when it comes to sustainable footwear.
Shopping with Sseko, you could change someone’s life. Whether you choose a pair of flats, Oxfords, or a set of sandals with interchangeable straps, any shoe you buy here will help women in Uganda pay for their education. It’s a fact that many men and especially women can’t save enough money to pay for further education, but Sseko aims to change this by providing a safe work environment for budding students, and encourages them to save the money they earn to take to school. They even grant scholarships that match up to 100 % of their savings. Ethical, and beautiful!
When you do your utmost best to put together a fabulous ethical and sustainable wardrobe, you want your shoes to be perfect, and perfectionist footwear brand Philippe and Patrice make gorgeously classic European styles from organic leather. This means that the cattle were raised organically, used for meat, and the resulting leather was tanned organically. Right now, the brand only produces shoes for men in styles ranging from the Chelsea boot to the loafer, but an exciting women’s range is on the way – watch this space!