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A cultural divide is looming, which threatens to tear the fabric of our society apart. It’s about whether you take your shoes off when you walk inside your home.
Look, I’ve been on both sides. I grew up in the country, and we took our shoes off because they would be muddy and dirty after tramping through the woods, and my mother would kill me if I sullied her white carpets. In the suburbs, and we drove everywhere. Our shoes simply did not come into contact with many germs. It would be considered weird if we took our shoes off in someone else’s home. That was an intimate act verging on offensive. But when I moved to New York, I quickly got into the habit of leaving my shoes by the door and demanding the same of visitors. I’ve seen too much in this city to tramp through my beautiful little apartment wearing something that has come into contact with the subway stairs.
So, it’s time to talk about ethical slippers, house shoes, and socks!
What to Look for in Sustainable Socks
Natural Fabrics: The brands below use natural, low-impact fabrics like organic cotton and closed-loop bamboo. These natural fibers don’t wreak as much havoc on the environment when they’re washed or thrown out at the end of their life.
Recycled Materials: Fabric made from recycled material has its pros and cons. On one hand, it keeps trash from our landfills and saves on all kinds of resources needed to make virgin materials. Using recycled synthetics also allows eco-conscious brands to compete with conventional brands in terms of stretch, longevity, and performance. On the other hand, when we wash synthetic fabric (recycled or virgin), microscopic pieces break off and lead to our huge microplastic problem. So scroll to the bottom to find out about three great resources for helping to reduce the amount of microplastics that get washed down the drain.
Environmentally-conscious manufacturing: The processes involved in creating textiles, especially high-performing ones, are often pretty harsh on the environment, using lots of water, chemicals, and energy, and leaving behind waste. Look for brands that are using more earth-friendly processes that reduce their impact.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency and third-party certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Your personal priorities: What do you need new socks for and what will you actually be doing in them? Do you need high performance socks for running or sports? Should you get something antibacterial since you walk to work every day? Do you want something comfy to just lounge around the house? Patterns or solid colors? And what length do you want?
To help you find socks you can feel good about wearing, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite sustainable and ethical sock brands:
PACT’s socks are made out of mostly certified organic and Fair Trade materials and low-impact dyes. They carry a wide variety of patterned and solid colored socks for men, women, and kids, with a focus on affordability. They use processes that cut down on water use too.
Organic Basics uses eco-friendly materials like GOTS certified organic cotton and Tencel, as well as recycled wool and nylon. Everything is made transparently in certified factory partners around the world, where workers are ensured safe conditions and are paid a living wage with benefits. They also have an impact index, which measures the amount of waste, chemicals, energy, emissions, and water that are utilized in their production process.
Ably Apparel has a collection of cotton socks for men and women that are treated with Filium® technology. Filium is an eco-friendly technology that turns cotton, wool, silk or other natural fabrics into water-shedding, stain-resisting, odor-refusing fabric, without losing any natural softness or breathability. Read more about why we love Ably here.
Teddy Locks recycles used plastic bottles and fiber scraps collected from the east coast of the US and transforms this waste into socks. They also design their socks as collections to help avoid lonely socks being tossed out. This further prevents materials from ending up in landfills but also means their socks will last you longer. Plus, all of their packaging materials are 100% recycled and recyclable. From fiber to finishing, all of their socks are made in the USA.
Harvest and Mill’s socks are made from organic cotton and completely undyed—the color of the sock is the color of the plant fiber! By growing and utilizing different colors of cotton, the brand and its customers are supporting biodiversity, which is essential for ensuring healthy ecosystems and keeping our planet resilient in the face of climate change. Dye-free socks don’t use dye chemicals, which can be toxic to our bodies and ecosystems. All their organic cotton is grown and sewn in the US, which means these socks support USA organic farmers, American heritage mills and their local sewing community. Plus, Harvest & Mill’s signature supply chain has a low-carbon impact because the materials travel far less than most supply chains. All their packaging is plastic free and compostable.
These socks are extra unique because they’re infused with silver! In 2013, Laurie Gonyea teamed up with North Carolina State University to produce the first hand knitting yarn in the US using US-grown cotton and pure silver. Silver is antibacterial and antimicrobial and has thermal properties to keep your feet extra warm. All of the cotton is grown in the US and dyed with non-toxic, all-natural dyes. (Read more about silver as an anti-odor technology here.)
Nudie’s socks are made out of organic cotton and they have some really fun designs. On each product page, you can check out the factory where the socks were made for full transparency. We love Nudie and their commitment to sustainability and circularity throughout their entire production and brand mission.
This brand started out catering to men with a monthly shipment of underwear, but they’ve since expanded their offerings to also include socks in men and women’s sizes. They’re sticking with black, white, and grey for now, and they’re made from ethically-sourced Supima cotton and low-impact dyes.
A sustainable fashion pioneer, People Tree has been partnering with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco fashion collections for over 25 years. People Tree’s socks are made from mostly organic cotton.
Rockay was created by an ultra runner from Copenhagen when he wanted to combine his passion for sport with his love for the environment. These performance socks are made from 100% recycled materials and have been tested by world-class athletes. They have a wide variety of running and fitness socks, from ankle socks to compression socks and sleeves. Plus, they come with a lifetime guarantee!
Taylor Stitch’s men’s socks are made from Mercerized Merino. The mercerization process strengthens the Merino fibers and makes them even softer to the touch, which means you get all the natural performance benefits of Merino with none of the itch. These socks are made in Italy out of mostly deadstock materials.
You probably know about Allbirds sneakers, but they make socks too! Their “Hiders,” “Quarters,” and “Tubers” are made from a material they call Trino, which is a combination of ZQ Merino wool and eucalyptus from sustainably managed forests. It’s soft, moisture-wicking, and odor-minimizing.
REI carries several sock brands like Smartwool, Darn Tough, and their own REI Co-op brand, and most of them are best for outdoor and activewear. Every brand that REI carries meets a minimum standard of ethical and sustainable operation. Although not every single item is made out of recycled and/or natural materials, they have a really wide variety of apparel to choose from that’s not only made in a conscious way, but also really high quality. For more about REI’s sustainability initiatives in depth, read this.
A leader in sustainability for the past four decades, Patagonia carries performance and everyday socks for men and women that are made of sustainable and Fair Trade components.
Harvested in FSC-certified fields in the Sichuan Province of China, Boody’s organically grown bamboo is used to create their signature soft and durable fabric out of which they make their socks. It’s ECOCERT certified, which is processed in a closed-loop, non-toxic system. So unlike regular bamboo rayon clothing, which requires intense chemical processing, Boodywear manufacturing doesn’t discharge toxic chemicals into the environment. And bamboo is a highly renewable resource – it quickly regenerates after being cut. Plus, it’s naturally breathable, antibacterial, thermo-regulating, and hypoallergenic—which makes for a great sock!
Conscious Step socks are made out of GOTS certified organic cotton that’s sourced from small farmers in India. They are Fair Trade Certified, which means they’re sewn by people who are being paid a fair wage and working in safe conditions. Each pair of socks supports a different cause—your purchase might benefit anything from ocean conservation to disaster relief to LGBTQ rights.
What to Look for in Slippers & House Shoes
Natural Materials: A lot of cheap slippers are made with synthetics like polyester and acrylic, and I have not seen any made from recycled fibers, yet. If you’re vegan, I’ll respect that. But if you want natural fibers, you’ll be looking at either wool or shearling. You can read more about wool here. Shearling is simply sheepskin with the wool still on it, so you get the fluffy on one side, and the leather on the other. Technically, you could consider it fur, but it’s exempt from California’s fur ban.
Fair and artisan labor: Slippers and house shoes have a long tradition in many societies around the world, so you can choose from many artisan-made styles. A bonus is that artisan-made styles are more easily repairable by your local cobbler.
Non-toxic and environmentally friendly manufacturing: You’ll be wearing these frequently around your home, so it’s especially important for them to be free of toxic finishes that might come on cheap slippers. Look for brands that use non-toxic glues, dyes, and finishes, and source leather and shearling from a responsible tannery.
These luxe slippers are handmade from ethically-sourced baby alpaca fur by local artisans in underdeveloped communities in the Andes Mountains.
These super hygge wool slippers are slow-made with centuries-old heritage techniques by the best wool felters in the world—women artisans in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. All of the artisans are paid a living wage in their women-run factory. Each pair of Kyrgies is constructed from wet felted wool that keeps your feet the perfect temperature year-round, is odor resistant, breathable and exceptionally durable. The sheep who provide the wool live in open pastures from spring to autumn and move to the yards of Kyrgyz villagers during the winter months. Kyrgies uses all-natural, vegetable-tanned leather that is tanned without chrome or chromium in their leather-soled shoes.
Closer to a shoe than a slipper, Allbirds cozy loungers can be worn around the house or to run errands. As a certified B Corp, Allbirds makes their shoes out of sustainably sourced wool, FSC-certified Tencel, sugarcane for the soles, and natural castor bean oil for the insoles. They also give shoes to those in need through Soles4Souls and use 90% post-consumer recycled packaging, without plastic.
Composed simply of locally sourced upcycled salmon skin leather and natural Patagonia sheep’s wool, these slippers are handmade by independent female artisans in Patagonia through a co-op system, so that the artisans aren’t forced to work in a factory. Each pair comes rolled up in an eco-friendly, reusable shipping tube, no plastic included, with additional wool thread and salmon skin for personalizing or repairing them, and a QR code so you can learn more about the artisan group that made them. Read more here!
Manitobah Mukluks is an indigenous-owned company in Canada that makes mocassins, slippers, and winter boots.
Many of these brands are using recycled plastic to make their socks, which is amazing because it means less virgin plastic being introduced into the world. However, it doesn’t keep microplastics from gradually breaking off and getting into our waterways. Washing your socks (or any of your synthetic clothing) in a Guppyfriend filter bag, with a Cora Ball, or in a Microfiber Filter washing machine attachment helps to decrease the amount of microplastic shedding from your socks and polluting the water.