18 Sustainable Shoes for Every Occasion
By Chamidae Ford
By Chamidae Ford
So your workout wear comes from recycled water bottles and your clothes are second-hand or upcycled textiles. You have successfully mastered the art of never forgetting your reusable bag when you go grocery shopping and you compost. You're the most sustainable you have ever been, except for your shoes.
The sustainable shoe industry, while growing, is lagging behind other aspects of the fashion industry. Despite their slow approach to adopting sustainable materials, they have a larger impact on the environment than other sectors of the fashion world.
Only in recent years have we been offered a range of sustainable options that rival the rest of the fashion world, and still shoes are the 17th largest polluter in the world. While this information is less than ideal, there are ethical brands that are starting to address the impact of their industry.
From big corporations to small ethical brands, sustainable shoes are becoming more and more accessible. And as climate change continues to become more and more visible in everyday life, finding ways to reduce your impact on the planet is important.
We at Girlfriend Collective have gathered the best styles and designs the industry has to offer. From hiking to running, to a girl's night out, here are the best sustainable shoe brands for every situation.
Keeping It Casual
1. Slides for Every Task: Girlfriend Collective Reslide
Everyone needs a trusty pair of slides. For dancing in your kitchen, taking out the trash, or cleaning your bathroom. These comfortable and cute sustainable shoes are perfect for nearly every occasion.
Materials: The slides are made from recycled, scrap, and bio-based material. These slides are created with a zero-waste process and can be recycled into new shoes once you are done with them.
2. Classic Sneaker: Vejas Campo Chromefree White Ultraviolet Black
If buying leather shoes is important to you, opt for ones made without chromium. These sneakers are some of the best classic white shoes on the market. Not only do they offer fun colorful accents, but they are sustainable. Vejas make great casual shoes for running errands or meeting up with friends.
Materials: These leather shoes are made from Chrome Free leather which prevents heavy metals and toxic acids in the production process and results in 40% less water usage.
3. The Perfect Loafer: Sézane Andre Loafer
A fall and winter staple that works for nearly every outfit is a comfy loafer. And Sezane offers some of the best. These shoes will make you want to go for a stroll through the park.
Sézane is a B Certified Corporation that makes their shoes in their Portuguese workshop. They established a recycling program and all of their locations are powered through reusable energy.
Materials: 61% of the leather used in their shoes is vegetable tanned making it chrome and metal-free, and 75% of their materials are eco-friendly.
4. Daily Walk Around the Block: Toms Alpargata Heritage Canvas
It is once again time for your daily walk through your neighborhood and these slip-on shoes are perfect for a lowkey afternoon exploration. Beyond their sustainability practices, TOMS also donates 1/3 of their profits to grassroots efforts to uplift communities.
Materials: The soft canvas material is made from jute, an eco-friendly fiber that requires less water and chemicals to produce. While the insole of the shoe features 26% eco-friendly content.
5. Cozy Night In: Fortress Claudia Slipper
For those rainy winter nights, this is the perfect shoe to wear as you cuddle up with a cup of peppermint tea.
Fortress is a family-oriented small business with only 60 employees. They have a recycling program where you can sell your used Fortress shoes and buy preloved ones. This program began as a way to extend the lifeline of Fortress shoes. Another pillar of their business is creating ethical fair trade workplaces. Fortress provides all their employees with fair wages, safe work environments, and gender equality are available to all employees.
Materials: Handmade in Peru, these leather shoes are ethically sourced and feature undyed shearling, and a rubber heel.
6. Where Comfort and Style Meet: Po-Zu Judy
Whether you are wandering around your house, painting on the back porch, or working in the yard, these slippers offer support and style. The name Po-Zu stems from the Japanese word that means to pause. Po-Zu wants to not only encourage their customers to slow down in their busy lives but halt the harm footwear has caused the planet. Sustainability and an ethical workplace are Po-Zu’s biggest priorities.
Materials: The footbed of the shoe features molded cork. The soft eye-catching top of the slipper is made from locally sourced wool and recycled plastic bottles.
7. The First Thing You Put on in the Morning: Pangaia Jersey Slippers
Your new go-to item to slide on your feet right when you get out of bed. These colorful slippers are not just comfy but earth conscious, so you can be saving the planet and stylish while waiting for your coffee to brew. Pangaia works to create products with sustainable materials and natural materials. Relying on science, purpose, and design as the inspiration behind their eco friendly shoes.
Materials: The slippers are made from a mix of recycled and organic cotton. The soles are 50% pre-consumed recycled materials.
8. Sneakerhead: Nike Air Max 90 LX
If you like a statement shoe, but still are looking for comfort, the Air Max 90’s by Nike opts for more flair and color than your classic white sneaker. Featuring complimentary earth tones the design reflects what it’s made of, natural materials. These eco friendly shoes were made to be the star of your outfit.
Materials: These sneakers are sourced from eco friendly materials, such as pineapple leaf fiber and a cork sole.
9. Sunday Brunch: Nisolo All-Day Heeled Mule
These mules are timeless and transitional, perfect for a late brunch to an evening in a dimly lit lounge. Nisolo is a sustainable shoe brands that prides itself on transparency. Their website features a breakdown of their sustainability measures with each style of shoes they sell. This break down focuses on their impact on the people making the shoes and their impact on the planet. Since 2018 they have partnered with Ecosphere+ to offset their carbon emissions.
Materials: The material for their leather shoes are sourced from the meat industry rather than allowing it to end up in the landfill.
10. Flats for Every Occasion: Rothy’s The Point
The Point flat from Rothy’s is the perfect alternative to a heel. Whether you’re in the office or on a first date, The Point flats suggest sophistication and class without making your feet ache.
One of Rothy’s main goals for 2022 is to be a zero-waste company. By 2023 they will be a circular company with a carbon-neutral status.
Materials: The shoes are knit featuring thread spun from plastic water bottles, a Rothys signature, and require no break-in time. Beneath the insoles of the shoes are crafted from algae-based foam that actually helps keep our marine ecosystems balanced.
11. For Gallery Openings: Nae Luna Black Micro Vegan Loafer
These vegan leather shoes offer an edgy spin on the classic loafer, featuring chunky buckles and an ankle strap. This design makes it the perfect shoe when you want to be dressed up a bit. Chic but still comfortable. In fact, the name of the brand is an acronym for No Animal Exploitation. Reducing the impact on the environment while also protecting animals in the process.
Materials: This loafer is made of vegan leather. Making it not just eco-friendly but cruelty-free as well. Nae relies on sustainable materials such as recycled plastic, cork, organic cotton, and pineapple leaf fibers.
12. And Summer Picnics: Vivaia Square Toe Slide Heels
Vivaia is a brand that believes you don't have to sacrifice fashion when it comes to sustainability. The high quality and trendy designs promise you will remain well dressed and eco-friendly when you are lounging in the park on sunny days.
This sustainable shoe brand also prides itself in creating a safe and ethical work environment for their employees by participating in routine audits.
Materials: These shoes are made from wool, recycled water bottles, and feature a rubber grip on the heel.
13. Night on the Town: Everlane High Ankle Glove Boot in Re-knit
So, you have a party to attend, a night on the town, or a Sunday morning farmers market run. These flattering boots from Everlane show that you can be sustainable and classy too. Whether you dress it up or down you’re helping the planet.
Everlane prides itself on being an ethical brand that prioritizes the longevity of products over trends, and transparency over everything.
Materials: The Glove Boot is made from recycled plastic bottles. This material provides a sock-like feel to the boot.
Getting Active or Braving the Elements
14. Rain or Shine: Skye Footwear The Mobrly 2.0
For those who like a shoe that fits nearly every occasion, from hiking on soggy hills in early spring, to running to catch the train in the pouring rain. This Pacific Northwest brand crafted eco-friendly shoes that are waterproof and designed to weather the elements.
Materials: These sustainable shoes are made from recycled plastic bottles and feature an algae-based insole. They are crafted with their afterlife in mind, meaning all their shoes are made from biodegradable and recyclable materials.
15. Sporty Spice: Allbirds Tree Runners
Quickly becoming the staple sustainable shoe brand, Allbirds offer comfy and cute while providing a running shoe that works.
Allbirds also have long-term sustainability goals. They aim to double the lifetime of their products and have 75% of their products crafted from sustainably sourced natural material and recycled materials.
Materials: Made from a eucalyptus tree and their signature SweetFoam® midsole which is created from Brazilian sugarcane.
16. Comfiest Shoes Ever: Wilding Feather Amaranth
If you prefer shoes that make you forget you’re wearing anything, Wilding offers an array of sustainable shoes that hit the mark. At Wilding, it is their mission to craft a sustainable and transparent supply chain. Through monitoring their facilities and relying on natural materials for their products.
Materials: The insole features walnut shells and the insole washi, which is a fabric made of paper.
17. Outdoorsy and Fashionable: Converse Color Run Star Hike
Part of their Converse Renew program, the Converse Color Run Star Hike sneaker is not just the perfect platform sneaker, but also an eco-friendly shoes. They take an outdoorsy spin on the Converse classic high tops. From the city to the mountains you look great.
Materials: Made from 100% recycled polyester
18. Winter Staple: Ground Cover
Founded by Avery Ginsberg, Ground Cover creates vegan, sustainable, and environmentally conscious products. Their vegan leather combat boots are perfect for the winter months or outdoor work. So, whether you are braving snow or rain, you’re protected. Ground Cover also pledges to never discard unsold merchandise which reduces company waste.
Materials: Their traditional combat boot features a cactus-based vegan leather exterior and a lug sole made from coffee grounds and rubber waste.
What Are Shoes Really Doing to Our Planet?
Shoes are a massive contributor to our carbon footprint. The making of one shoe produces 30 pounds of CO2, and more than 15 billion shoes are produced each year.
In 2018, 66.3 million pairs of shoes were produced a day. Shoes are also a large factor in climate change because once worn out, they are hard to repurpose. Old shoes are worth very little, but on average, it takes 40 years for a shoe to start decomposing. They are made of many different fused materials which makes them difficult to separate and repurpose.
The reality of climate change is more visible than ever, and companies and consumers need to make strides to a less wasteful and more planet-friendly approach to our day-to-day lives, and that includes shoes.
Beyond the production of synthetic material, leather shoes are a leading contributor to deforestation in the Amazon. With cattle farming being the driving force behind the Amazon's deforestation and 50% of leather products today being used in shoes, they are heavily linked.
Leather is considered to be the most polluting material in the fashion industry. Beyond how it is sourced, how it is dyed is detrimental to the planet and the people who work with the chemicals. In fact, 90% of those working in the dying process of leather in Bangladesh die before 50 due to the chemicals.
Many of the sustainable shoe brands that do rely on leather have taken strides to create leather shoes that are more sustainable, such as sourcing from meat production, using vegetable tanned leather, and chrome-free dyeing.
Within the fight for sustainable products, ethical production remains important as well. Throughout the shoe industry, child labor and inhumane facilities had long been the norm. To counteract that, ethical brands have started making their production process transparent, emphasizing fair trade, and providing fair trade wages.
Girlfriend Collective which sources its products from a facility in Taiwan that is SA8000 certified. This means all their employees are guaranteed fair wages, healthy and safe conditions, and no child labor. Everlane and Allbirds also have similar approaches. Sustainable brands that still rely on unethical labor are continuing to have a negative impact.
Some Good News
As companies recognize this growing issue with their products they have begun to come up with creative and sustainable alternatives to what has always been done. Innovative approaches abound, from rethinking how we use natural products to repurposing items already in the landfill.
Natural materials such as organic cotton, eucalyptus, cork, and wool are sustainable because of their renewable source, meaning they can be replenished naturally over one’s lifetime.
Organic cotton is a great alternative because it grows with rainwater rather than irrigation, requiring much less energy to produce. Likewise, cork for shoes comes from harvesting the bark of cork oak trees. It will continue to produce the cork throughout its life, growing back each time you cut it away. Using natural materials like these is essential because it does not deplete our resources and it grows naturally, requiring less energy to produce and fewer chemicals.
Repurposed eco friendly materials such as pineapples, cacti, and coffee grounds are also making headway for their sustainability and zero waste capabilities. Using the pineapple leaves, which are generally left to rot are now being used for their fibers and made into a mesh. Alternatively, cacti leaves also regenerate and do not require irrigation to grow. They are also a zero-waste option because what cannot be used in the fashion industry can be sold in the food industry. While repurposing water bottles has become a common alternative throughout the clothing world.
Why These Brands?
While certain brands are more ethical than others, all these brands have prioritized not just eco-friendly shoes but ethical workplace practices, which we at Girlfriend Collective are deeply passionate about. Protecting not just our planet but our people too. Each brand prioritizes sourcing its products from raw and recyclable materials when possible and ultimately reducing their impact on the environment. Transparency when it comes to shoe production is key in the fight for a more sustainable industry. This collection of sustainable shoes features brands that have taken strides to protect their planet from harmful shoe manufacturing.
Note: You can learn more about sustainable manufacturing, recycled materials, ethical workplaces, and shop eco-friendly products on the Girlfriend Collective Website.