Accessories Fashion

Sustainable Shoe Brands Walking On The Eco Side

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’.

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 very different sustainable shoe brands with distinctively different approaches to sustainability.

Sustainable Shoe Brands Walking On The Eco Side

1. As Good As It Gets: Rothy’s

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.

2. The Versatile Vegan: Veerah

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!

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3. The Conscious Leather Curators: Coclico

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.

4. The Ethical Producers: Nosolo

The stunningly sustainable shoes made by Nosolo are manufactured in Trujillo, Peru’s shoemaking capital and third largest city. There, shoemaking as an artform has been passed down through generations, and Nosolo helps maintain these artisanal traditions. Fair wages are paid throughout the supply chain, and even the lowest wage in their factory is a 3rd party verified living wage.

Nosolo is also committed to working under a circular fashion model—a system that reuses and recirculates products and materials. If you send them your old shoes, they will pass them on to Soles4Souls, a non-profit that allows micro-entrepreneurs to bring old shoes back to life, and sell them on for profit.

5. The Refined Vegans: Marzeri Milano

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.

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.

6. Designer Vegan: Mink

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.

7. Super Sustainable Sydney Brown

This vegan shoe brand 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% discount code for a future order on the Sydney Brown website.

8. Old School Sneakers: Veja

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.

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 a fave with green celebrities like Lily Cole!

9. Ethical Sandal Specialists: Sseko

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. Ethical, and beautiful!

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10. The Prize Winner: BeFlamboyant

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 a tree is planted with each pair sold. Their shoes are also all manufactured with zero CO2 emissions. Wow, right?

Oh, and that model? Yep, that’s our very own writer, Noa!

11. The Quirky One: Kweder

These easy, chic looks are made in Italy, 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. There are also quirky splashes of Italian touches, like oversized bows and macrame, which are made from organic cotton materials. The soles of the shoes are often constructed from cork or wood, ensuring you step out in sustainable style.

12. The Urban Shoemaker: Sylven New York

Not sure which is more sustainable: vegan or recycled leather shoes? Well, Sylven New York makes both!

Sylven is mainly focused 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 themself 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.”

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Ray Musgo
    Jan 31, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Anna.

    We’re a spanish ecofriendly footwear and we want to congratulate you for this article. It’s difficult to clarify this topic, and you did so well 🙂
    For instance, we try to explain that our “meaning” of a sustainable shoe involves MATERIALS (vegetable tanned and dyed leathers, EcoTPU outsoles, etc.), PROCESSES (handmade and local manufacture) and PEOPLE (fair conditions).
    Moreover, we will offer vegan (and sustainable) models in the summer, but it’s important that people realize the difference between vegan and sustainable, because they’re often used synonymously 🙂
    Congratulations one more time for this post.
    Best regards from Spain

    Ray Musgo
    http://www.raymusgo.com

  • Reply
    Anna
    May 14, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Hi. Love the article. Just wanted to clarify some details. Some of the vegan shoes you say are sustainable but nowhere it mentions what they are made of? Even on their own websites. Most vegan shoes are made from oil based leather substitutes which are the complete opposite of sustainable, some would argue less sustainable than leather even.
    Does this mean that the vegan brands you have chosen use environmentally friendly materials or has there been a confusion between vegan and sustainable?
    This is something I’m really interested in so would be massively greatful if you had the information. Xx

    • Reply
      Anna
      May 14, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Ah did some more digging. It was the Veerah I was confused by. Would have been interesting to read about their REACH certifications in your article and how the microfibres they use are certified by them. 🙂

      • Reply
        Chere
        May 14, 2017 at 12:27 pm

        Hi Anna! You can visit the REACH website to get more of the info you’re looking for 😉

  • Reply
    Giovanni Windey
    Apr 4, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Great article. If you are interested in a new socially and environmentally sustainable (and vegan) brand, you should check out ‘tropas’.
    They make sustainable designer shoes that are made from recycled materials and are easy to recycle themselves (circular economy and cradle to cradle).
    They support social workplaces in Belgium by providing them with meaningful jobs and they produce locally at a small family business in Spain.
    Best regards from Belgium 😉

    • Reply
      Chere
      Apr 4, 2019 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks for your comments and the recommendation!

  • Reply
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