Sustainable & Ethical Shoe
Brands and Footwear
– Our Buy Ensemble Picks –
Finding high-quality, comfortable shoes means finding something that feels good on your feet and on your conscience. And ethical shoemakers are working hard to deliver just that. There seem to be three primary areas of focus when it comes to what constitutes sustainably and ethically made shoes—materials, working & labor conditions, and general environmental stewardship & sustainability
Materials: When it comes to making shoes, companies have to source all kinds of raw materials from laces to insoles ranging from cotton to synthetically-made textiles. Where they source and how they process their materials will greatly alter their environmental impact. For instance, is their cotton organically grown? How are textiles dyed and, for leather shoes, how is the leather tanned? Leather can be a little tricky, so if you aren’t opting for vegan leather, where does the leather come from, and is it cruelty-free? Do they even have their own cattle or do they have a partnership to repurpose what would otherwise be waste in other industries like the meat industry?
Working & Labor Conditions: Take a moment and think about all the shoes in the world! TONS, huh?! Most shoes are made at mass-scale and manufactured in factories abroad. Unfortunately, labor laws in other countries are oftentimes weak, poorly enforced, or completely nonexistent, making it easy for shoe companies to exploit their workforce in order to lower costs (think sweatshop and child labor). Companies producing ethically made shoes take a stand against worker exploitation and strictly use fair trade practices throughout their production from farms and factories up to storefronts and delivery.
Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability: We must take into account a company’s dedication to the overall impacts of their products throughout their supply chain. If shoes become threads in just a few months, that means another pair of shoes ending up in the landfill or in our environment, and that’ll add up over the course of one person’s lifetime! Do they package their shoes with the least possible amount of waste? And how do they ship their products across the world? Ethical fashion is a cradle to grave effort, or maybe “cradle to cradle” is more appropriate.
Once you see the “soul” of a shoe, you can start to recognize which are better for the world. We’ve done the work for you in our list of Sustainable Shoes! Certifications will also help you do the trick—keep an eye out for Carbon Neutral, B-Corporation, Leather Working Group, Fair Labor Association, Canopy, PETA, OCS, & GOTS certifications.
Our Buy Ensemble Picks: Ethical & Sustainable Shoe Brands
Allbirds is the world's most comfortable (& sustainable) shoe.
With a goal to have no carbon footprint from the very beginning, Allbirds are lighter on the planet while still being everything you could want in a shoe.
Nisolo is a Certified B Corp creating sleek, hand-made shoes and accessories.
They offer a wide variety of boots, sneakers, flats, bags, jewelry and more, all while advocating for fair labor practices, living wages, and wage transparency throughout the fashion industry.
One of the OG ‘Give Back’ companies, TOMS popularized the “One for One” model.
They are staunchly committed to environmental and socially conscious practices, and their focus on casual, yet stylish shoes in a variety of styles means there’s always something for everyone.
Canadian Certifed B Corp Oliberté started in 2009 with a focus on workers' rights and ethical, sustainable manufacturing.
They offer handcrafted, top-quality leather boots for men and women using materials and techniques that stand the test of time.
Indosole makes responsible footwear for your every day made from ethically sourced materials and recycled tires.
Tires take thousands of years to break down, so Indosole takes these tires and turns them into the soles of their sleek, comfortable, durable, consciously made sandals.
Most known for their washable, planet-friendly flats, Rothy's makes footwear and accessories for women and kids crafted from eco-friendly materials like recycled plastic water bottles.
With Rothy's, you'll find an abundance of high-quality shoes to help you step out in conscious comfort and style.
Veja is a certified B Corp that makes footwear out of sustainable, innovative materials for men, women, and kids.
Since 2005, Veja has been producing high-quality athletic shoes and casual sneakers with people and planet in mind, in a variety of different styles and colorways.
Will's Vegan Store has been making vegan, sustainable footwear, clothing, and accessories since 2012.
Whether you want a pair of vegan leather boots, an eco-friendly pair of sneakers, or a new wallet that's easy on the planet, you're sure to find something that suits your needs.
Vivo makes innovative 'barefoot' footwear from eco-conscious materials like recycled water bottles and leather made from meat industry byproducts.
They boast a 90% sustainable materials selection of sleek athletic shoes, sneakers, boots, and more for men, women, and kids.
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Sustainable & Ethical Shoe — FAQ
Are Shoes Sustainable?
Depends on who they come from. Fashion brands can be elusive in their production, but many in the shoemaking biz are working hard to improve the industry by using more eco-friendly materials, decreasing waste, ensuring long-term use, powering their operations with renewable energy, and standing up for fair working conditions. With so much innovation in the same: natural textiles, upcycled and repurposed materials, and 100% vegan shoes, there are a lot of ethical options whether you’re looking for slip-ons or sneakers, heels or sandals. How can you make sure sustainable shoes are the norm? Support these better-for-the-world businesses.
What Makes a Shoe Sustainable?
There seem to be three primary areas of focus when it comes to deciphering what constitutes sustainable shoes, and a sustainable shoe will hit each one: 1) using long-lasting and natural materials to make their shoes that promote slow fashion and reduce waste, 2) providing safe working conditions, fair wages, and security through things like healthcare for workers throughout production, and 3) incorporating sustainability through their packaging, distribution, and shipping with practices like using renewable or recyclable materials and carbon offsetting emissions for product transit.
How Do I Know if Company X Uses Sweatshops?
A good way to know if the company you’re looking to buy from is ethical is to look for fair trade and other third-party certifications they may have. If they do not have these certifications, check out their company website for any other information regarding their sourcing and manufacturing. If they aren’t completely transparent, it might require a Google search or social media dive to find out what investigations have been done into the company. These certifications most often are easy to find on the company’s site, so if you’re in a rush, that’s a good place to start.
What are Sustainable Shoes Made Of?
Companies are expanding the kinds of materials they are using to make their shoes. Sustainable materials to look out for are: certified organic cotton, leather that is certified by the Leather Working Group, recycled and upcycled textiles like recycled water bottles or tires, natural textiles, such as merino wool, silk, and, as is often the go-to for many vegan brands, natural rubber, PVC, and cork—all that are sourced sustainably.
Where Can I Buy Sustainable Shoes?
We recommend buying your sustainable shoes directly from the company themselves to help support their sustainability mission. We want to make sure the footwear brands that align with our values get our dollar votes.
What Do I Do with Old Shoes?
If they are in good condition, consider reselling or donating them. There are tons of organizations that will accept shoe donations and put them to good use! If they cannot be donated, find a recycling program— check out TerraCycle to see where you can recycle your old shoes!