In order to live the most sustainable life possible, you should probably stop wearing clothes and move to the woods and be completely off the grid. Since that isn't possible for most of us, we have to find the next best alternative. In a world polluted with bad materials and what seems like no way out, sustainable sneakers have paved the way for putting your best foot forward toward Mother Nature.
What makes a sneaker sustainable? The first thing would be the materials. Let's say you're wearing a shoe that's not recycled leather or has pleather as part of its makeup—you might want to rethink wearing those if you're leaning toward a more eco-conscious life. Even though a sneaker is never really able to be 100% sustainable (unless it was made out of a single leaf), brands have been leaning more towards being eco-friendly and we aren't complaining.
Most sneakers are made out of chemical compounds, including leather, plastic, and synthetics. Mass production of sneakers is a problem, and because they are the most popular type of shoe, it's almost impossible to reduce waste, especially if your sneaks are in high demand. Sadly, most sneakers are unable to be recycled. To properly recycle a shoe, it would need to be made using one material only. Because the industry has been built on being unsustainable, it feels like there might not be any hope. Luckily, we have some brands that lean towards being eco-friendly or sustainable, and we are excited to share our 15 favorites with you.
Waes prides itself on being the first zero-plastic, vegan, sustainable shoe. Its shoes are plastic-free and some of its fabulous materials include hemp, vegan conifer glue, and canvas. They are pretty much the only brand that can claim to be 100% free of plastic. This brand plants a mangrove with the SeaTrees foundation and promises that toward the end of each shoe's lifetime they are completely compostable. Handmade in Portugal, this brand is hemp-stitched and promotes the natural foot movement. Waes is committed to being as sustainable as possible while remaining as cute as possible. How sweet is that
With its use of recycled polyester and every type of transparency and accountability, some people call this brand the only sustainable sneaker. Made out of an average of three plastic bottles per shoe along with organic cotton, and 40% Amazonian rubber, Veja's are as eco-conscious as they are cool. The brand doesn't do any ads yet manages to still be a favorite among plenty of cool eco-warriors and celebrities. It's hard to choose a favorite pair, and they might be quite pricey for some, but these sneakers last a long time and remain cute, sturdy, and better for fashion's sake with every use.
This made-to-order brand is one of the only of its kind. With soles made from recycled car tires, all of its shoes are handcrafted in Ethiopia in a zero-carbon production process. Sole Rebels uses hand-spinning and looming to create its shoes, which are made from organic jute and Koba plant fiber and strive to be as sustainable as possible. Sole Rebels offers full medical benefits, fair wages, and transportation to and from work for its workers. What's not to love?
For lovers of the animal, you'll love this brand as well. With upper linings made from corn waste and cotton, inner linings made from bamboo, soles made from natural rubber, and insoles made from cork, there are so many things to adore about Flamingos. Made in Spain, they work with suppliers located at a maximum of 40km from its HQ in order to reduce its carbon footprint. The brand is even USDA-certified. As well as having cute sneakers, Flamingos collaborates with Waste Free Oceans by making monthly donations for marine litter collection and generating environmental awareness educational projects.
Apparently, Thousand Fell made the first-ever recycled sneaker. They are also gender-neutral so that's a win-win. The shoes are made with everything but leather, with materials including recycled water bottles, sugar cane, and coconut husk. It sounds like a piña colada you can wear and it gets better than that: Once you’re done with the shoes, you can give them back to Thousand Fell and receive credit—and the team will recycle them into new shoes.
Allbirds isn't lying with its motto "made from nature." Sustainable materials including Merino Wool, eucalyptus tree fibers, and recycled plastic shoelaces are some of the ways these shoes stay eco-friendly. The brand also have plans to reduce its carbon footprint completely by 2030. My mom will tell you how much she loves hers, so I imagine you and your mom will love them as well.
Komodo is one of the oldest ethically made brands. The brand uses top-quality organic, natural, and eco fibers. Some of the materials include green PU coating and recycled PET from plastic bottles. Most of its products are vegan as well as cruelty-free, and one of many things we love about it is that they no longer have single-use plastic anywhere in their supply chain. Komodo is GOTS certified and a member of the soil association, and they donate to the Sumatran Orangutan Society which is restoring natural rainforests and ecosystems through repurposing palm oil.
Not all brands have the ability to say that they've been around for 30+ years. However, Simple can take that glory. Founded in 1991, the brand has been reimagining skate shoes ever since. Its materials include insoles from recycled PU foam, outsoles from recycled rubber, and water-based glue used in production. Simple just launched a collab with The Arrivals (cool!) and now even offers clogs. Grab your board or your dog because these versatile sneakers are comfortable, long-lasting, and can take you wherever you need to go starting at $90.
Womsh, or "word of mouth shoes" has been using ethically created practices since 2014. By using non-toxic, raw materials Womsh limits the production of waste and emissions that are known to be harmful. While not entirely vegan, the brand has a fabulous animal-free line that's sure to make you stand out. 100% Italian from the inside out, sneaker artisans work in a ISO9001, ISO14001, and SA8000 certified environment where they are protected and safe all of the time while making a living wage. Everything about this brand shows how much they care, from the production to the materials (almost all of them are recycled) to the designs they create.
Celebrity favorite brand Cariuma has been making waves with its sustainable shoes for quite a while now. What's not to love about a shoe results in two planted trees after you buy it? Even by simply subscribing to the brand's newsletter, a tree gets planted. With materials like organic cotton, rubber, and bamboo, the list goes on about how sustainably-sourced these sneakers are. We bet you didn't think you could wear cork, mamona, and sugar cane.
This Australian brand literally translates to "ethical.'"Certified B Corp, fair trade, and as cute as Converse, you'll fall Etiko as soon as you check out the website. With sneakers made from FSC Certified natural rubber latex and REACH Certified organic dyes, it's hard to choose a favorite style. The shoes are even packaged in a shoebox made from recycled post-consumer waste. If you're like us and love to recycle, you'll love these shoes as well.
Not the skate brand, these shoes look good enough to eat. Produced in limited quantities and made in Italy, Noah has so many styles it's hard to choose a favorite. The shoes are non-toxic, partly recycled, and recyclable, and the brand started planting a tree for every order received in 2020. They recently launched a tab on their site for cruelty-free gift ideas, which is filled with fabulous things. When you're on their website, make sure you check out their accessories because the belts are pretty cute too.
For the month of November, sustainable brand Saye is donating two vegan meals for every sneaker purchased. If that isn't a nice intro to this brand, we don't know what is. 280,000 trees planted and counting, this brand is working as hard as it possibly can to prevent deforestation. Made up of mostly young people, this company is also 69% women-run. Vegan, organic, recycled, and bio-based, their eco-friendly styles range from low-top to high-top and go up to a size 46. They even come in a 100% recycled box with a biodegradable bag.
Kokolu is a newer brand to the eco-friendly sneaker game, but they're already made some noise. Making use of natural materials including corn stalk, sugar cane, and coffee grounds, these sneakers are light as air and made to keep your feet dry. If you're a faux leather fan, get ready for the brand's upcoming Greenkleather, which they claim can biodegrade within three months in compost.
I bet you never imagined you'd get the chance to wear 3D-knitted sneakers. Founded in 1999 with an emphasis on sustainability, Lanius only creates clothes and shoes with thoughtfulness and care. The brand is GOTS-certified, a member of the IVN, and mainly uses biological materials that are controlled by independent institutes. PETA also approves of this brand, which means your animals can all rest happy knowing your shoes are both comfy and cruelty-free.