a guide to eco-friendly shoes and how to find them + brand recommendations

Second hand, preloved, vintage, and thrifted options:

You can get pre-loved shoes, just make sure that they are not too pre-loved. Actually is recommended that for your foot health, you should never wear shoes that other people have walked in. So when looking for second-hand shoes, it is best to find some that have not been worn.

also check out: WHAT I WEAR IN A WEEK // 7 days of sustainable/thrifted/ethical fashion *early spring*

Shoe care and maintenance:

shoes should last more than a season, however, because fast fashion products are so cheap, we often throw away footwear rather than having them fixed. In many cases having something, fixes might also be more expensive than buying new shoes – especially if we’re talking about cheap fast fashion shoes. Instead of throwing your shoes away, have them maintained at a shoe repair shop – they can often be found in malls. Have your winter shoes resoled and keep leather goods looking good with annual keep-ups. This will take shoes from being good for one season to last you more than a decade.

also check out: Eco Brands I Stand By // a list of sustainable fashion companies

Some central focus points to look for in a sustainable product:

  • how materials and energy-use is minimized and optimized
  • innovation of sustainable material processes
  • rethinking the life cycle of a product in a circular manner
  • prioritizing long-lasting and durable products
  • making recycling possible by making the separation of materials easier
  • including repair/return policies with a plan to avoid landfill or other disposals of the material
  • And of course, there is no sustainability without fair wages and workers’ rights

Leather – is it a sustainable material?

Humans have been using leather since we first started keeping animals, however, the industrial way of processing leather today is very different from the small farm fantasy we’re often promised. Industrial leather production results in extreme water pollution because making leather involves a process called tanning. Today’s a vast majority of leather is tanned with chrome, which is extremely toxic both to the people working with the leather, and to the environment. That being said, leather is also really durable and can last for decades. In my opinion second hand, repurposed leather or vintage leather is a really good sustainable option, because you both get a material that’ll last a long time, and you avoid supporting the unsustainable practices of widespread leather production.

There is also vegan leather out there, however just because something is vegan, does not make it 100% sustainable, and pleather aka plastic leather is a great example of that. Some vegan leather is actually super sustainable (like cork, pinatex, and other plant-based materials), but the ones that are based on plastic are not. (there are ethical aspects of using leather and even second-hand leather, and I go into these issues some more in the post down below).

also check out: Wearing Leather as a Vegan? My Thoughts and Reflections

Brand recommendations:

  • Allbirds: a San Fransisco-based brand that uses Tencel and has implemented several green practices in its production
  • Bhava Studio: a US brand vegan shoe brand that also carried formal shoes and heels
  • Christy Brown: shoes handmade in LA with vintage second-hand leather
  • Cariuma: a Brazilian vegan sneakers brand that makes shoes produced with bamboo, sugar cane, and recycled plastic
  • Etiko: natural Fair Trade rubber flip flops and sneakers made in Australia
  • Ethletic: an ethical and vegan sneakers company that uses Fair Trade cotton and natural rubber
  • Flamingo Life Shoes: a Spanish sneakers brand that uses corn, bamboo, natural rubber, and organic cotton
  • Humans Are Vain: a vegan sneakers brand, with a return program
  • Insecta: A transparent and sustainable shoe brand from Brazil, their shoes are all vegan and waste materials are reintegrated into the shoes’ insoles
  • Kira: an Estonian shoe brand that accepts old shoes back once they are worn out, the shoes are vegan, and made from recycled materials like car tires and post-consumer waste
  • Maison de Mode: a US ethical luxury platform with several brands available
  • Mireia Playa: a Spanish vegan shoe brand with great all-around sustainability initiatives, like renewable energy, material recycling, and textile innovation
  • Miret Shoes: a 97% natural shoe brand from Croatia
  • Nae Vegan: shoe selection for all genders made from cork, pinatex, recycled PET, and organic cotton
  • Po-Zu: a British brand that uses GOTS cotton, non-toxic dyes, and hand-makes the shoes locally
  • Rothys: a US brand that makes flats made from recycled plastic bottles
  • Veja: a French sneakers brand that has great supply chain transparency, they do use leather though
  • Solerebels: Ethiopian shoes made with recycled materials
  • Wair: Danish sneakers made with upcycled fabrics and deadstock
  • Wildling: US-based barefoot shoes made with organic cotton, hemp, flax, and other sustainable materials (for adults and children)
  • Wills Vegan Shoes: shoes made with plant-based leather made from organic cereal crops and manufactured ethically within the EU

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