These sustainable shoe brands have both the planet’s health AND people’s comfort in mind
By Anna Van Der Heidjen
What’s meant by ‘sustainable fashion’ anyway? The truth is, the answer is never simple, and ‘sustainable’ 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? Hmm…not so much.
But the good news is that more and more sustainable shoe brands are using recycled plastic bottles, Piñatex and other more eco-friendly materials to create their footwear. And of course, cork and wood are also popular materials for soles and heels.
Yet, some claim that it’s more sustainable 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….well… ‘intimate’.
One technique for making sustainable shoes that we love is zero waste. This can be done in various ways. For example, a brand could only make shoes on demand, ensuring they have no dead stock. Or they could even use 3D printing to make shoes, which only uses the exact amount of a material, with no scraps.
What Makes A Shoe Sustainable?
So, what’s the best way to define sustainable shoe brands? Should they be vegan? Organic leather? Second hand? Zero waste? Let’s take a look at a few of these.
This refers to products that have been sourced from organically reared cattle and tanned without the use of toxic, harmful chemicals. Organic leather is considered more ethical than mainstream leather because the chemicals used to make the latter damage the environment. However, organic leather is able to degrade itself when it reaches the end of its life without leaving behind harmful residues.
Eco leather is another term for leather that is considered ethical for several reasons. Firstly, it could be:
- deadstock leather fabric that would otherwise go to waste
- upcycled from old jackets, car seats, sofas, and other leather materials that would otherwise end up in landfill, these textiles already exist, eliminating the demand to create new.
Secondly, eco leather will use plant dyes in place of toxic ones, which is by far better for the planet and our own health.
When we talk about zero waste in shoes, this can refer to a few things. For example:
- A sustainable shoe brand that uses recycled materials, such as plastic bottles or rubber, to make its goods
- The creation of shoes via 3D printing techniques. This is, by definition, zero waste. That’s because 3D printing machines only use necessary materials. Additionally, shoes made this way are usually made to order.
The arguments for this one are complex. For vegans, one thing remains: killing animals for fashion is wrong, period.
But one thing that leather lovers will throw back in terms of vegan leather is how toxic it can be.
Yes, vegan leather still has a bad reputation. That’s because in the past, many leather alternatives were made from toxic plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU) and textile-polymer composite microfibers.
But veganism is evolving! And I’d argue that sustainability is improving in the realm of vegan fashion. Today, many innovative brands are making cruelty free leather alternatives from some very eco friendly sources.
- Pinatex made from pineapple leaves
- Apple peel leather
- Cactus leather, which makes for some seriously buttery soft materials
- Cork, which helps preserve oak forests
The only downside? These leathers sometimes have a plastic coating. But their chemical and CO2 load is still far less than that of cow leather.
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 very different sustainable shoe brands. Each has their own distinctively different approach to sustainability.
Sustainable Shoe Brands
Oh, how I love Rothy’s! This is definitely one of the most sustainable shoe brands on the planet.
They’re making vegan shoes from recycled plastic bottles. But since they’re continually striving for zero waste, they’re also eco-friendly because they’re using 3D knitting technology combined with handcrafted assembly to create their signature style flats. But that’s not all: they produce their footwear in family owned and operated factories that truly set the standard for sustainable, responsible manufacturing.
Rothy’s shoes are comfortable, practical, and timeless, and will be a welcome addition to your closet for years to come.
Based in: USA
Best for: Minimalist, super-eco-friendly vegan shoes
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use both recycled materials and zero waste manufacturing.
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 ethical shoes.
Why ethical, you ask? Well, the brand actually pays its employees to volunteer their time to good causes for up to ten hours a month. They also dedicate a percentage of their profits to help young girls receive education. A win-win situation we would say!
As for sustainable style, their vegan shoes are designed to be versatile. You can actually transform their core designs by adding accessories to them like tassels, buckles or straps to up the glam factor when you leave the office for a night on the town.
One shoe, up to four styles? Sign us up!
Based in: USA
Best for: The woman who likes diversity and variety in her wardrobe
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use innovative leather alternatives from apple peel to bamboo. They even have algae insoles!
She was the first, and she’s still the best! That’s right, Ms McCartney’s footwear is one of the OG sustainable shoe brands. And it’s sustainable, too!
How so? Well, most of her shoes are made from production offcuts, aka dead stock. Her in-socks contain plant-based content and her soles are made of recycled rubber. Sustainably harvested wood are another component of some of her styles.
Based in: Worldwide
Best for: Urban fashionistas who love to make a statement
A great sustainable shoe brand because: McCartney has signed up for many sustainability checks, such as the Supplier Code of Conduct, Responsible Sourcing Guide, Modern Slavery Policy and Subcontracting Policy. The brand’s supply chain is fully transparent and uses recycled and recyclable materials as much as possible. It also supports regenerative farming and other eco-initiatives.
With a founder whose roots are French, Coclico’s shoes could only be defined by Parisian 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 all her small business partners and artisan suppliers. Coclico’s organically tanned leather shoes ensure transparency and fairness throughout their production chain.
Apart from using eco-leathers and sustainable woods to make their footwear, Coclico focuses on slow consumption by striving for longevity in design and product quality. Their shoes are designed to be worn for ages, so they are constructed to be durable and, with their signature minimalistic asymmetrical lines, they are not likely to go out of style anytime soon, either.
Based in: USA
Best for: This is one of the best casual sustainable shoe brands for French flare
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use natural components such as organic linens, recycled cork for internal platforms, recycled foam and non-chrome leather lining.
The stunningly sustainable shoes by Nisolo are manufactured in Trujillo, Peru’s shoemaking capital and third largest city. There, shoemaking has been an art form for generations, and Nisolo is dedicated to maintaining these artisanal traditions. They pay fair wages throughout their supply chain. Even the lowest wage in their factory is a 3rd party verified living wage, which is great!
Nisolo also uses a circular fashion model—a system that reuses and recirculates products and materials. For example? If you send them your old shoes, they will pass them on to Soles4Souls. This is a non-profit that allows impoverished micro-entrepreneurs to bring old shoes back to life, and then sell them on for profit.
Based in: Peru
Best for: Classic, eco-leather based designs
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use eco-friendly materials including recycled materials and chrome-free dyes in the leather tanning process. Unlike most brands, their leather is a by-product of the food industry.
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 great attention to detail.
The twist? These are made out of the world’s most eco-friendly cruelty-free materials, such as cork and apple-based ‘leather’. The fabrics used by Merzeri Milano beautifully imitate the look of patent leather, suede and other refined textiles, but without the cruelty. Definitely one of the most refined sustainable shoe brands.
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.
Based in: Europe
Best for: Sexy, beautifully made vegan shoes
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use the most planet-friendly vegan materials, with extensive research into the best solutions for the lowest possible environmental impact.
Ready to learn about the most gorgeous of all these sustainable shoe brands? Made with love by renowned designer Rebecca Mink, these are vegan shoes that really make a statement!
They’re constructed by the same processes that the likes of Jimmy Choo or Louboutin uses, to ensure the heels are as strong as steel, and that the comfort level is off the charts, despite the heel height. High heels not your thing? No worries – they also produce super-comfy vegan flats.
In addition to using non-leather materials, the brand is eco-friendly because it produces shoes on a bespoke basis, or in very limited quantities, to ensure there’s no waste.
Based in: USA
Best for: Gorgeously girly vegan shoes
A great sustainable shoe brand because: MINK is creating fully sustainable, zero plastic, bespoke plant – based vegan leather hides and vegan exotic skins.
This is one of our favourite sustainable shoe brands. The vegan company not only shuns cruelty to animals by using materials like cork, wood and organic cotton in its shoes, but it is now proud to announce a recycling program that will gather all SB shoes at the end of their life cycle – and give their customers a discount!
The label’s closed-loop recycling program collects worn shoes, dismantles, shreds and uses their waste to create brand new soles. And the best part? Any customer that participates in this closed-loop program will receive a 20% off any future order on the Sydney Brown website.
Based in: Totally international
Best for: Ultra fashionable vegan shoes
A great sustainable shoe brand because: The brand’s main ethos is to use recycled and sustainable materials.
Good news! The coolest ever sneakers are completely eco-friendly. Vegan brand Veja is probably one of the best known sustainable shoe brands. They make 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.
I love that Veja’s soles are made with wild rubber – so there were no trees cut down to create plantations. The upper tops of the shoes are made from all sorts of recycled and organic fabrics, from leather to cotton canvas. This is a brand that seriously walks the walk when it comes to sustainable footwear. No wonder it’s one of the most popular sustainable shoe brands with green celebrities like Lily Cole!
Based in: Brazil at first, now the world!
Best for: Sustainable sneakers, both vegan and leather
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They use eco-friendly materials including organic cotton.
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 – in this African nation 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. This is for sure one of the most loving of all the sustainable shoe brands!
Based in: USA and Uganda
Best for: Summer shoes, and of course, helping to improve the lives of Ugandan artisans
A great sustainable shoe brand because: Their use is leather provides jobs in the tanneries and creates a market for the hides leftover after animals are sold for meat. This provides further income for farmers
Winners of the 2020 Eluxe Awards for the Best Vegan Shoe Brand, BeFlamboyant is not only kind to animals, but to the planet, too. This Spain-based brand makes their shoes from recycled plastic bottles. But that’s not all.
Their packaging is zero-waste AND BeFlamboyant plants a tree for every pair of shoes they sell. They also manufacture their footwear with zero CO2 emissions. Wow, right? Definitely one of the most conscious sustainable shoe brands!
Oh, and that stunning model, below? Yep, that’s our very own writer, Noa!
Based in: Europe
Best for: Bang-on-trend vegan trainers
A great sustainable shoe brand because: Their shoes are made using sustainable materials such as corn waste, bamboo or recycled plastic from the sea SEAQUAL.
Artisans in Italy create these arty, unique styles – and all are ethical, vegan and cruelty free!
Inspired by Mediterranean seas and summers, these shoes are handmade from suede and leather-like fibres that are kind to the environment.
This is one of the quirkier sustainable shoe brands, for sure. We love the splashes of Italian touches, like oversized bows and macrame, which are crafted from organic cotton materials. Cork or wood comprise the soles of these shoes, ensuring you always step out in sustainable style.
Based in: Europe
Best for: Bringing some arty flare to your wardrobe
A great sustainable shoe brand because:
Not sure if sustainable shoe brands should best be vegan, or use recycled leather shoes? Well, Sylven New York makes both!
Sylven focuses mainly on using recycled materials. This could be recycled leather from say, car seats, or vegan leather made by recycling bottles. But there’s also organically tanned leather and vegan leather made from apples on offer, too.
As the brand itself states: “We are always in pursuit of the best organic, bio-based, biodegradable, recycled, and renewable components. Our naturally tanned and vegan leathers, our recycled rubber soles, and even the glue we use, all seek to reinvent how footwear is produced, from the inside out.”
Based in: USA
Best for: Boho chic boots
A great sustainable shoe brand because: They’re reinventing how footwear is produced by using plant based, organic, bio-based, biodegradable, recycled, and renewable components