Your sneakers may be made for walkin’, but if you’ve been pounding the pavement every day to rack up those 10,000 steps, chances are your shoes are looking a little worse for wear. Before you add another replacement pair to your shopping cart, however, perhaps you should first consider the environmental impact of your footwear choices.
Here are some sobering statistics to keep in mind: more than 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced every year, of which hundreds of millions get tossed out in the trash. The majority of discarded shoes then end up in landfills, where an average of 50 years is needed for them to decompose. Sneakers, on the other hand, by now a staple of most wardrobes, can take up to 1,000 years to fully decompose, because of the PVC and EVA widely used in their soles. Seems your kicks aren’t so slick after all, huh?
Fortunately, if you’re looking to lighten your footprint on the planet, without giving up your sense of style, there are a number of eco-conscious yet fashion-forward alternatives out there that you can opt for. By making use of recycled and renewable materials like apple skin leather and sugarcane, and employing more sustainable production methods, brands like Veja and Po-Zu have succeeded in giving the sneaker an environmentally friendly makeover, so you can shop with a (relatively) guilt-free conscience.
Read on for six sustainable sneaker labels you can (and should) support with your next purchase.
One of the most responsible and recognisable footwear brands around, Veja has been shaking up the fashion industry for almost two decades, and counts Emma Watson, Chloë Moretz, Emily Ratajkowski, and Meghan Markle among its fans. Everything from sourcing and production to packaging, distribution, and even the energy used in the brand’s headquarters is founded on an ethical and eco-conscious footing. Spanning classic everyday sneakers and sleek running shoes, all branded with the distinctive V logo across the sides, Veja’s comprehensive offering is manufactured in Brazil from sustainable materials such as upcycled plastic, organic cotton, Amazonian rubber, and corn-based C.W.L vegan leather.
Po-Zu’s name stems from the Japanese word meaning “to pause”, reflecting the brand’s mission to halt the damage caused to people and the planet by fast fashion. Promising to use only materials that are responsibly harvested and derived from naturally renewable sources, Po-Zu crafts its low-top and high-top lace-up sneakers in GOTS certified cotton canvas, cork, and solvent-free leather alternatives like Piñatex (extracted from pineapple leaves) and Frumat Apple Skin, as well as coconut fibres and natural latex in its signature shock-absorbing Foot Mattress™️ soles.
A family-owned business founded on the desire to do as much good in the world as possible, Etiko not only produces ethical and sustainable apparel, it also champions social causes such as labour rights, fair wages, and worker empowerment. Oh, and its manufacturing system is carbon neutral too. Etiko’s vegan sneakers (think Converse style) are hand-stitched by Certified Fair Trade employees from GOTS certified organic cotton and FSC certified rubber, and can be recycled through its circular Take Back Program.
Good News does exactly what it says on the box. The brand’s ’70s-inspired, brightly-coloured selection of sneakers is designed with an emphasis on sustainability and circularity – each pair is created with organic cotton uppers, recycled car tyre rubber outsoles and special castor bean oil footbeds, and arrives in 100% recycled cardboard packaging. What’s more, Good News donates all of its deadstock to the homeless and refugees in need of shoes.
A San Francisco-based startup and certified B-Corp, Allbirds looks to mother nature as its muse. The brand’s eco-friendly range of minimalist skippers, dashers, loungers, and more features uppers of ethically-sourced merino wool or eucalyptus tree fibres, and soles derived from sustainable sugarcane, while laces are made from recycled plastic bottles, and castor bean oil is used in the lining. Even the packaging consists of 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard.
Rothy’s may have only one sneaker style, but what it lacks in variety, it certainly makes up for in sustainability credentials. The label’s slip-on sneakers – available in neutral tones and leopard and camouflage prints – are made primarily from recycled single-use plastic bottles (more than 50 million water bottles have been recycled since its launch), along with recycled foam, bio-based algae and non-toxic adhesives. Another perk? The shoes are machine washable.