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 from ENZI
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Looking for a sustainable, ethically-made sneaker comes with challenges. Not only does it need to be well constructed and durable, but it also needs to be comfortable and breathable. Shoppers who like to get the most out of every piece face the added difficulty of finding shoes with style and versatility. 

A lot goes into keeping a sneaker intact, and unfortunately, a lot of brands are still using toxic glues to keep synthetic bits (like soles and uppers) or conventional leather together. But all is not lost. You can still find stylish shoes that will keep you comfortable all day without harming workers and the environment. 

Here’s what to look for when searching for eco-friendly sneakers:

Materials: There are many positive alternatives to synthetics in the shoe world, such as organic cotton, merino wool, ethically-sourced rubber, and recycled materials. Natural materials such as Tencel stay cool and breathable for all-day performance. Cork and sugarcane-based insoles provide steady support without quickly wearing down. 

Transparency: Brands that are aware of their supply chains (and share this information) are more likely to monitor working conditions and ensure garment workers are paid fair wages. This also helps prevent harmful waste practices that hurt the environment. Because the highest quality shoe manufacturing occurs abroad these days, look for brands that are open about where their manufacturers are and frequently audit through third-party organizations. 

Packaging: Many eco-conscious brands use recycled packaging materials that are biodegradable or can be recycled again. With shoes, companies have the unique opportunity to use the shoe box as a mailer as well. Look for brands that make the most of their packaging options and avoid single-use plastics wherever possible. 

Carbon Impact: The more local the materials, the less carbon the brand will emit when transporting goods between its supply chain locations. Look for brands that have just a few factories with short distances between them. Some brands offset the carbon emissions from product shipping by partnering with third-party organizations. 

Versatility: Consider what you’re looking for in a sneaker. Do you need a pair specifically designed for performance, or do you want something that suits many different occasions? Many ethical footwear brands create shoes that will easily go with whatever outfit you choose. Making the most of your sneakers can save money, carbon emissions, and closet space. 

Take-back Program: Some brands offer recycling programs to help keep old shoes out of landfills. Once you’ve worn out one of its pairs, you can send it back and it will recycle it for you. (And often reward you with a discount on your next purchase!) 

We’re excited to present you with eight brands that offer an amazing variety of styles, colors, and innovative materials. 

Cariuma

Cariuma’s stylish sneakers are made from ethically sourced rubber, organic cotton canvas, and vegan insole materials (cork, bio memory foam and organic mamona oil). The classic design is meant to easily mesh with any look, no matter the season, with styles ranging from cool neutrals to bold colors and patterns. They’re lightweight, durable, and built to last. Cariuma is a certified B-corp and is also partnered with DHL Go Green to make its shipping carbon-neutral. 

Allbirds

Whether you’re looking for lightweight running shoes or all-day support, Allbirds has a pair of ethically-made sneakers for you. The brand designs its unique styles with breathability and versatility in mind. It uses responsibly-sourced alternatives to plastic such as merino wool, Tencel, and its own original Sweet Foam. Allbirds uses recycled mailers that function as a shoe box as well. 

Thousand Fell

Thousand Fell’s sneakers are made to be everything you need in a shoe. They’re stain-proof, water resistant, comfortable, recyclable, and cute as all get-out. With natural materials such as aloe vera, recycled yoga mat insoles, and even a natural quartz moisture barrier, this brand is on the cutting edge of sustainable sneaker manufacturing. It even has a take-back recycling program, so if you send your old Thousand Fell kicks back to them, you’ll get a discount on your next pair. The brand’s family-owned factory resides in Brazil, where it sources its sugar-cane plastic replacement. One of our editors wore her sneakers regularly for two years before the interior of the uppers started cracking and shedding—not bad for a non-leather shoe.

SAOLA

SAOLA makes comfortable and casual sneakers designed to go with any outfit. The light but durable designs are vegan, breathable, and eye-catching. This brand uses recycled plastic and algae foam for the outsoles, organic cotton laces, and natural cork insoles to create low-impact shoes. Its factory resides in Vietnam and is frequently visited by the SAOLA team to continually improve production and working conditions. 

Greats

This Brooklyn-born brand offers low tops, high tops, slippers, and slip-ons that are made to last a lifetime. They come in a variety of classic and color styles. Its packaging is 100% recyclable, and it incorporates recycled and biodegradable materials across its product lines, such as yarn and mesh made from plastic bottles and recycled cotton laces. Be sure to check the shoe care guide before you buy, as each sneaker type requires specific care.

Everlane

These vintage-inspired carbon-neutral sneakers are made of recycled leather and other repurposed materials, such as recycled laces and recycled cotton uppers.  Choose from slip-ons, classic tennis shoes, high tops, and more. If you love them so much you wear them out, don’t toss them in the trash! Send them back to Everlane and it will recycle the pair for you. The brand conducts regular audits of its factories and anonymous worker surveys to ensure health and safety conditions. 

ENZI

This Kenya-born brand maintains a small and responsible manufacturing process. Its low, mid, and high-cut styles come in basic neutrals as well as bright burgundy. As functional as they are stylish, these sneakers are made of full-grain leather from local farmers. Both Enzi’s shoes and packaging are crafted by hand in Ethiopia

 

 

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