The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion


These Brands Are Making the Best Sustainable, Ethical and Recycled Sneakers

Image credit: Ponto
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Sneakers have been a bit of a challenge for the sustainable fashion industry.

The biggest hindrance to sustainable sneakers is that there are a lot of different components to consider: the uppers, the sole, the outsole, the lining, the laces… and most of those disparate materials need to be held together by some sort of very strong glue. And consider that sneakers have to endure much more wear and tear than say, an ethically made sundress. The durability and performance aspect is crucial.

We are still far away from getting our basketball sneakers in sustainable and recyclable materials. But there are definitely some brands innovating to produce more sustainable sneakers. And they run the gamut in style and uses.

What to Look for in Eco-Friendly Sneakers

Recycled or Natural Materials: Natural textiles tend to be more breathable, and the fashion sneakers below incorporate all kinds of natural, renewable, or biodegradable materials into their shoes, such as wool, corn, cotton, leather, cork, and rubber. When it comes to sports-level performance, however, natural materials rarely hold up as well as synthetic materials. For sports, look for recycled materials such as PET plastic from bottles. Or shoes that combine natural materials with a synthetic binder to reduce the carbon footprint of each shoe.

Non-Toxic: Look for water-based and non-toxic glues, shoes that are free of PFAS, and undyed materials or non-toxic dyes.

Fair Wages: As always, we look for brands that are transparent about where and how their shoes are being made. Are their employees being paid fair wages? Are they working in safe conditions with access to things like healthcare? For leather shoes, look for ones made in artisan workshops, from Ethiopia to Italy.

End of Life: What can you do with your sneaker when you’ve run it into the ground? Some brands will offer some sort of return program so you know your shoe won’t end up in the landfill.

[If you’re looking for other types of eco/ethical shoes, check our boots roundup and our sandals post.]

Considering those aspects of what makes a sustainable, ethical sneaker, here’s a roundup of our favorite brands:

 

Nisolo

Nisolo shoes are intentionally designed to be versatile and long-lasting. They are ethically made at the brand’s Peruvian factory where all of the artisans earn fair wages, healthcare, and a healthy working environment. Nisolo also partners with Ecosphere+ to offset carbon emissions and protect forests in the Amazon. For its U.S. customers, Nisolo offers a reclamation program, offering a $40 credit for those that donate their shoes. In collaboration with Soles4Souls, these pairs are given to micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries, enabling them to clean, repair, and resell the shoes in their communities.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $79 – $250

Veja

Veja’s minimalist sneakers are crafted of organic cotton, wild rubber sustainably sourced from the Amazon rainforest, and mesh made from recycled plastic bottles. Fairly made in Brazil, the brand is committed to transparency and ethical business practices throughout its production processes. Since Veja’s beginnings, its sneakers have been made in the same place: the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. The brand also produces cardboard boxes with natural kraft cardboard, limiting the use of inks and printing to reduce its impact and ensure its recyclability.

Carries: Women, Men, & Kids

Prices: $90 – $290

 

Ponto

Ponto designs versatile, minimal, and elegant footwear that is nearly entirely made from bio-based and recycled material, such as sugarcane-based outsoles and chrome-free recycled leather uppers. For every pair of Ponto shoes that you send to a regional Soles4Souls distribution center, it will give you a $20 credit for your next pair of Pontos. The brand also donates 1% of sales or 10% of profits to protecting our ocean. For all of its shipping, Ponto is carbon neutral.

Carries: Women & Men

Price: $129

 

Rothy’s

Rothy’s has been one of the go-to brands for sustainable flats over the past several years, and now makes sneakers as well. Rothy’s transforms single-use plastic water bottles into its signature thread to craft all of its products. Under its insoles, Rothy’s uses algae-based strobel boards, while its insoles contain 30% plant-based oil and recycled rubber. Rothy’s knits its products to shape to minimize production waste, resulting in 30% less material waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods. Every single shoe it makes is fully machine washable. Its 2022 goal is to begin incorporating twice-recycled materials into new products, deconstructing and reclaiming used materials to create something new. And by 2023, Rothy’s plans on moving closer to a carbon-neutral footprint by reducing its emissions directly and investing in nature-based solutions.

Carries: Women, Men & Kids

Prices: $55 – $165

 

Allbirds

As a certified B Corp, Allbirds makes its shoes out of sustainably sourced wool, FSC-certified Tencel, recycled plastic bottles for the laces, sugarcane for the soles, and natural castor bean oil for the insoles. And its packaging is made from 90% recycled cardboard. Allbirds promises to cut its footprint in half by 2025 and then reduce it to near zero by 2030, partly by maximizing ocean shipping, which is much less carbon-intensive than shipping by air. Allbirds chooses suppliers based on how they work to improve living standards for their employees through wage systems and benefits.

Carries: Women, Men

Prices: $95 – $145

 

SAOLA

Named after one of the rarest and critically endangered animals on our planet, SAOLA  uses recycled plastic bottles, organic cotton, natural cork, and recycled algae foam to make its sneakers. Depending on the style, each pair of SAOLA shoes contains between three and seven recycled plastic bottles.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $50 -$100

 

Greats

Ethically made in Brooklyn, all of Greats’ sneakers are made by top-rated factories that meet the highest standards of labor and environmental practices. The Greats team never uses single-use plastics in packaging or retail stores and always uses eco-minded materials like biodegradable leather, recycled nylon, and natural dyes instead of chemical alternatives. 

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $70 – 189

 

Nike

Nike recently released its most sustainably-minded performance shoe to date, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature. To produce the shoe, the brand incorporated innovative materials, circular design principles, and athletes’ input. The sneakers are made with 50% recycled material and are an upgrade to its Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%, which are Nike’s top-of-the-line racing shoes. Nike has yet to announce the price of the sneakers, but they will be available for purchase this fall.

 

SUAVS

SUAVS breathable, washable, and sweat-wicking sneakers are 3D printed from recycled plastic bottles to reduce waste. Super light and flexible, they pack easily and are ideal for traveling. The brand donates all extra footwear to organizations such as Soles4Souls and LifeWorks.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $85 – $110

 

Everlane

Everlane says it is on the path to net-zero impact with its Tread shoe, which uses full-grain leather from a gold-certified tannery and the least amount of virgin plastic possible. Then Everlane calculates the carbon footprint of making the sneaker and partners with two third-party firms in order to offset emissions.

Carries: Women & Men

Price: $46 – $98

 

Oliver Cabell

A direct-to-consumer brand, Oliver Cabell uses high-quality natural leather to handcraft its sneakers. The company has a radical transparency policy so you know exactly how your shoes are made, where they’re made, and what materials are used.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $99 – $310

Thousand Fell

Made in Brazil, Thousand Fell is the only sneaker brand we’ve found so far that is specifically designed for circularity. It begins with a design that’s meant to last and uses materials that can either be biodegraded, recycled to make new shoes, or upcycled into materials for new projects—things like aloe vera, rubber, castor bean oil, recycled plastic bottles, coconut husks, sugar cane, palm leaf, and quartz. Then, when you’re done with your shoes, you send them back. You get a credit toward your next pair, and your old pair is recycled into a new one.

Carries: Women & Men

Price: $120

 

LØCI

Handmade in Portugal, LØCI creates premium vegan shoes. Its lining is made out of bamboo, and its insoles and midsoles are out of cork. LØCI also sources recycled ocean plastic from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Coast of Africa to create its shoes. For every pair of LØCI’s sold, the brand donates 10% of profits towards protecting and conserving sea life.

Carries: Women & Men

Price: $160

Womsh

Womsh is an Italian brand that designs vegan sneakers out of apple skin Ninety percent of the brand’s energy comes from renewable sources. In partnership with esosport, Womsh collects old Womsh sneakers and recycles them to make flooring for children’s playgrounds. The brand’s packaging is made of 100% recycled cardboard and lined with paper made from corn processing waste.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $149 – $239

CAVAL

Launched in 2018, CAVAL creates mismatched leather sneakers out of recycled rubber soles and organic cotton laces. They are handmade in Guimarães, Portugal.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices:  £129 –  £160

 

Ration.L

Made in Vietnam, Ration.L creates versatile, sleek, and gender-neutral shoes out of non-toxic PU, organic cotton, rubber, and recycled aluminum. Its packaging is made out of recyclable cardboard and paper.

Carries: Gender Neutral

Price:  £70

Trash Planet

UK-based Trash Planet uses recycled mesh from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester to create its sneakers. The recycled component is partly made with upcycled marine plastic, collected by its partner’s ocean clean-up initiative. Trash Planet’s removable insoles are made out of tree fibers recycled PET. It also uses recycled soles and corn to create its sneakers soles. The factory where its soles are manufactured runs solely on renewable energy. In addition, Trash Planet offers a recycling program giving customers £20 off their next pair.

Carries: Women

Prices:  £139 –  £219

 

Cariuma

Using a roster of natural materials like bamboo, sugarcane, recycled plastic bottles, and cork, Cariuma has created an entirely vegan sneaker with carbon-neutral shipping. It ensures no hazardous chemicals in its manufacturing process by choosing bluesign certified chemicals to dye its materials. Cariuma has 100% traceability into its footwear manufacturer. And 59% traceability into its yarns, polymers, and chips.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $79 – 129

 

adidas x Parley

Adidas partners with Parley for the Oceans to create a popular collection of high-performance shoes using partially recycled ocean plastic. This collection includes running shoes, cleats, tennis shoes, and volleyball shoes.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $85 – $250

Timberland

Timberland’s products are made to last a really long time so that you can get the most out of your shoes. The brand sells sneakers made with eco-conscious materials, including responsibly sourced leather, containing at least 50% recycled plastic and a sole made of 75% renewable sugar cane and responsibly sourced rubbers.

Carries: Women & Men

Prices: $60 – $140

 

ENZI

ENZI is a premium footwear brand that seeks to challenge global perceptions of Africa through design, artisanal production, and a transparent process that exceeds international fair trade standards. The shoes are designed by co-founder Jawad Braye and made in Ethiopia, where the high-quality leather is sourced.

Carries: Mens’ / unisex

Prices: $160 – $175

 

 

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