It’s saddening but unsurprising that the accessories responsible for the physical footprint we leave on the earth can also be a big contributor to our carbon footprint.
A study by MIT found that the production of a standard pair of running shoes generates around 13.6 kilograms of CO2 emissions, so looking for a more eco friendly option makes a lot of sense to those of us trying to minimise our impact on the environment. However, thanks to greenwashing marketing tactics and half-hearted approaches to sustainability, finding genuinely sustainable shoe brands isn’t as simple as it sounds.
To save you doing the intensive research yourself, we’re shining a light on 6 sustainable shoe brands making structurally sound and satisfyingly stylish kicks to help you tread a little lighter on the earth.
Made from nature, for nature is the Allbirds tagline, and it does a pretty good job at summing up what they do. Allbrids makes durable, discreetly branded, machine washable sneakers from planet-friendly natural fibres (such as merino wool, sugar and eucalyptus).
A pair of Allbirds sneakers emits 4.9kg less CO2 than a standard pair of sneakers (according to the Allbirds website). But in their mission to minimise their footprint, Allbirds don’t stop at sustainable fibres and eco-friendly production: measuring everything from landfill to transportation, Allbirds offsets its carbon production by funding projects such as wind farms and forest plantations.
The Indosole ethos is simple: mimicking nature through a closed-loop, zero waste approach. With three signature shoe designs to choose from, their aesthetic approach is much the same – simple and fail-safe. These easy-to-wear sandals are made from recycled tyres, and creating shoes from one of the most indestructible materials around means your Indosoles are made to last.
Who doesn’t love a fresh white pair of kicks? When you wear the Cariuma Off-White Knit sneakers, you’ll be lighter on your feet and leave behind a smaller footprint. We mean it, they’re knit from self-regenerating bamboo & recycled plastics from heel to toe.
Replanting the forest floor is their goal, so for every pair of sneakers sold the company plants a pair of trees. In June 2020, the brand launched their own Reforestation Program in the Brazilian rainforest, where sadly 20% of the forest floor is gone.
This Melbourne based brand was started by two sisters on a mission to make fashion forward footwear that’s comfortable to wear, and doesn’t harm any animals in the process. Born in 2016 as a vegan brand, the TWOOBS team have since extended their sustainability commitments, and now make their statement shoes from recycled, 100% vegan materials (right down to the glue).
A completely carbon neutral company, pairs of TWOOBS are posted without plastic in fully compostable (beautifully branded) boxes, and their pioneering recycling programme encourages shoppers to send their used TWOOBS back once they’re old and tired so the shoes can be recycled and turned into playground mats.
Catapulted to stratospheric popularity by their appearance on the feet of Meghan Markle, Veja have very quickly secured their name as the go-to for stylish vegan sneakers. But as their name (which translates into Brazilian as “look” – encouraging shoppers to look beyond the sneakers) suggests, this French born brand has embedded their sustainable ethos into every element of the business.
The perfectly stylish sneakers are made from recycled polyester, organic cotton, wild rubber (sustainably sourced from the Amazonian forest) and recycled post consumer plastic. With their forward-thinking approach, Veja became the first sneaker brand to use a fabric made entirely out of recycled fabric, but their sustainable ethos doesn’t stop there. A certified B Corp, Veja focus on social as well as environmental responsibility: with regular audits ensuring fair working conditions for their suppliers and employees, from cotton fields to board rooms.
One for those formal occasions, turn to Melbourne based brand Nelson Made. This slow fashion brand makes and designs its range of delicate flats in Melbourne, focusing on ensuring the “lowest possible environmental and human impact”. Carefully selected materials include locally sourced OEKO TEX fabrics and recycled, vegetable tanned leather.
Alongside their range of Melbourne-made flats, Nelson Made offer a range of statement heels – ethically made in China at a factory regularly audited by Qualspec (a global leading social certification organisation).
As well as their signature timeless designs, Nelson Made offers a custom option: ensuring a slow fashion, minimal waste approach by allowing buyers to shop the shoes of their dreams, to wear for life.
Another mainstay of the sustainable sneaker scene is Saye. This Spanish born brand makes super-chic sneakers from vegan leather, and plants two trees for every pair sold. Although Saye makes real leather shoes alongside their vegan and recycled ranges, they’re intentionally transparent about their sourcing and production methods: ethically manufacturing in Portugal and working exclusively with suppliers from the Iberian Peninsula and Europe.
Another pillar of the Saye approach is timeless, durable design: making them sneakers that will last beyond the season’s trend.
Need more inspiration?
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