14 Sustainable Shoes & Shoe Brands for Men & Women

by | Mar 13, 2020

Looking for a new pair of kicks? 

Let’s use this opportunity to fight fast fashion with our #BuyEnsemble selection of sustainable shoes and shoe brands! 

Here’s how this page works:

  • We’ll provide you a ‘quick-hit’ list of options to shop sustainably.
  • We share with you some of the issues, ails, and need-to-knows of the shoe industry.
  • On some of our most “favorite” brands, we’ll do a little more extensive write up to share why they make our favorites list. 

Let’s dive in.

Before we get into our more in-depth write-ups, here’s a quick look at our #BuyEnsemble picks for sustainable, fair trade shoes in multiple styles for all sexes:

1. Allbirds

Located: San Francisco, CA

Certifications: Certified B Corporation, Climate Neutral

Impact: Sustainable Materials & Packaging, Shoe Donations

Styles: Casual, Runners, High-Tops, Flats 

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women, Men, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰💰 ($95 – $140)

Self-described as “light on your feet, easy on the planet,” Allbirds live up to their claim. Allbirds is a B-Corp and a Carbon Neutral company making shoes that are good for your feet and for the planet.

2. Nisolo

nisolo-boots

Located: Nashville, TN

Certifications: Certified B Corporation

Impact: Ethical & Fair Treatment of Workers, Shoe Reclamation

Styles: Casual/Formal Options— Boots, Flats, Heels, Loafers, Sneakers, and More!

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰💰 ($150- $300)

Nisolo is a Certified B Corporation hand-making beautiful shoes, boots, and plenty of other styles for all sexes. Nisolo’s greatest commitment is to their workers.  They not only engage in fair labor practices internally, but they also advocate strongly for living wages and wage transparency throughout the fashion industry.

3. Rothy’s

rothys-flats

Located: San Francisco, CA

Certifications:  None we are aware of

Impact: Recycled Materials, Sustainable Packaging & Shipping

Styles: Flats and Sneakers

Vegan:  Yes ✔️

Options for: Women, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰 ($125 – $170)

Most notably, Rothy’s makes casual, colorful flats for women and kids out of recycled plastic bottles and other marine plastics that are machine washable. As well, they’ve made completely recyclable packaging, and they have begun to offset their carbon emissions by partnering with The Envira Amazonia Project.

4. Veja

veja-sneakers

Located: Paris, France

Certifications:  Certified B Corporation

Impact:  Fair Trade Practices, Organic & Sustainable Materials, Vegan Shoe Options

Styles: Sneakers! Running shoes as well

Vegan:  Some Vegan Options

Options for: Women, Men, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰 ($100 – $240)

Veja is a Certified B Corporation selling men’s, women’s, and kid’s sneakers, made out of organic cotton, wild rubbers, and other innovative, sustainable and ethically sourced materials. Since 2005, Veja has been determined to make these stylish casual sneakers an eco-friendly, ethical, and fair manner.

5. TOMS®

toms-chambray-sneakers

Located: Los Angeles, CA

Certifications:  Certified B Corp, Leather Working Group, Fair Labor Association, Canopy

Impact: Give Back Model, Sustainable Shoes & Business Practices, Fair & Ethical Working Conditions

Styles: Casual—sneakers, slip ons, sandals, boots, heels, you name it!

Vegan:  Some Vegan Options

Options for: Women, Men, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰/💰 ($40 – $160)

One of the OG ‘Give Back’ companies, TOMS popularized the “One for One” model—giving away a product for every product sold. With TOMS’ massive success they’ve greatly evolved and advanced their methods of impact, from mitigating environmental impact, to clean water projects, and impact grants. A purchase with TOMS is one you can feel good about. Casual, but stylish shoes, there’s always something for everyone (at more affordable prices)

6. Frank and Oak

frank-and-oak-sneakers

Located:  Montreal, Quebec [Canada]

Certifications:  Certified B Corporation

Impact: Eco-Friendly & Sustainable Materials and Production

Styles: Sneakers and Boots

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰💰($130 – $230)

Frank and Oak is a Certified B Corporation based in Montreal, Canada. They use recycled and organic materials for their whole clothing line (not just shoes), as well as eco-conscious methods of production. From the shoes themselves, to the stores, and the packaging, the Frank and Oak team designs for low impact on the planet.

7. ABLE

ABLE-gisele-sandals

Located: Nashville, TN

Certifications:  None that we are aware of

Impact:  Women’s Empowerment, Fair Wages & Ethical Labor Practices

Styles: Casual & Formal — Boots, Heels, Sandals, Loafers & More!

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰💰 ($120 – $230)

ABLE began by helping women coming out of the commercial sex industry find jobs. They’ve kept their commitment to using their business to empower women as women make up 95% of their workforce. They’ve partnered with NIsolo (another company on our list), to start the “Lowest Wage Challenge,” where they, along with other fashion brands are publishing the lowest wages of workers in their supply chains.

8. Indosole

indosole-sandals

Located: Ocean Beach, CA

Certifications: Certified B Corporation

Impact:  Repurpose Tires into Footwear, Recycled Materials

Styles: Casual—Slides, Flip Flops, Shoes

Vegan:  Yes ✔️

Options for: Women, Men, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰 ($40 – $60)

Indosole is a Certified B Corporation based in California that repurposes old tires into soles for shoes. Highly affordable and casual slides and slip ons, Indosole has been turning tires into soles for shoes since 2009.

9. Nothing New

nothing-new-sneakers

Located: New York, NY

Certifications: None that we are aware of

Impact: Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Materials, Sustainable Production

Styles: Casual Sneakers

Vegan:  Yes ✔️

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰/💰 ($90 – $110)

Nothing New uses recycled post-consumer plastic as their main material for their sneakers. They also offset all the carbon emissions that they can’t reduce in their production and shipping process with carbon offsets to be carbon neutral. From production to shipping to the end of life for their footwear, Nothing New is keeping the planet in mind.

10. Baabuk

baabuk-shoes

Located: Switzerland

Certifications: Certified B Corporation

Impact: Sustainable & Ethically Sourced Materials

Styles: Casual—Wool Sneakers and Slippers

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰/💰 ($90 – $110)

Baabuk is a Swiss Certified B Corporation making wool sneakers and shoes. The wool is carefully sourced, and as the cornerstone material, it makes for a durable and more long-lasting shoe! Hopefully that means you’ll be needing less! 

11. Vivo

vivo-barefoot-sneakers

Located: London, UK

Certifications: None that we are aware of

Impact: Uses 90% sustainable materials

Styles:  Athletic—running shoes, hiking boots, etc.

Vegan:  Some Vegan Options

Options for: Women, Men, Kids

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰💰 ($135 – $220)

Vivo is a shoe brand making barefoot athletic shoes out of recycled plastic water bottles, plant-based blends, and high-quality, eco-suede, and ethically sourced leathers that are byproducts of the meat industry. They also have casual styles (as pictured), for women, men, and kids! Vivo keeps us connected and conscientious of our planet.

12. Will’s Vegan Store

Wills-Vegan-Work-Boots-Black

Located: London, UK

Certifications: Certified Carbon Neutral, PETA Approved

Impact:  Sustainable Packaging & Shipping, Vegan

Styles:  Formal & Functional, Loafers, Boots, Sneakers and Heels

Vegan:  Yes ✔️(duh!)

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰💰 ($90 – $160)

Will’s Vegan Store is a…well…vegan clothing company selling not just shoes, boots, and sneakers, but also purses, wallets and bags! If vegan leather shoes options are what you are looking for, this may be your first stop. Will’s faux leather is high-quality making Will’s an award-winning, PETA approved, and certified carbon neutral company! 

13. soleRebels

sole-rebels

Located: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Certifications: Certified Carbon Neutral, PETA Approved

Impact: Sustainable Materials, Ethical & Superior Working Conditions for Ethiopian Artisans

Styles:  Casual—Sneakers, boots, sandals, and slip ons

Vegan:  Yes ✔️

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰 ($90 – $100)

SoleRebels is a shoe brand based in Ethiopia making ‘made-to-order’ artisan footwear. Their materials are locally sourced, and eco-friendly—they use materials like recycled tires, organic cotton. The workers for soleRebels make 3 times the industry average wage, and 4 times the legal requirement. As they say themselves, soleRebels is dedicated to “making the world a better place, one step at a time.”

14. Oliberté

oliberte-boots

Located: Oakville, Canada

Certifications: Certified B Corporation

Impact: Workers Rights & Environmental Stewardship

Styles:  Boots!

Vegan:  No ❌

Options for: Women, Men

Price Range: 💰💰💰 ($90 – $100)

Oliberté is a Canadian Certified B Corporation, making handcrafted leather boots. They’ve long been a champion of workers’ rights, and in 2013, their Ethiopian factory became the first Fair Trade Certified shoe factory. After experiencing some financial challenges, they moved manufacturing into Canada and have handcrafted over 100,000 beautiful pairs of boots.

  The Need to Knows: Sustainable Shoe Brands & Shoemaking

Wondering what makes a shoe and shoe brand “sustainable?” What issues are facing the footwear industry? Here’s a quick #BuyEnsemble glossary below, if you care to know! 

Of course, the concerns of sustainability can be very similar industry to industry, but for the sake of footwear brands there seem to be three primary areas of focus; materials, working & labor conditions, and general environmental stewardship & sustainability

Materials: 

  • Leathers — 

Often used in the shoe industry, it’s important to note 1) where the leather is sourced, and 2) its tanning process. 

The maybe disturbing truth about leather is that it is made from animal hide. With this in mind, it’s important to note where and for what purpose the animals (the source of the leather) were raised. For example, cattle farms are often created on gutted forest lands, which can devastate local forest habitats. Also, the animal hides used by some companies come from the leftovers of other industries, like beef or dairy. Others raise cattle for the sole purpose of using their hides for leather products.

To know whether or not a brand (or it’s suppliers) are abiding by
high standards of environmental stewardship in the leather production process,
look for this logo!

Tanning (the process of turning animal hides into leathers) can involve potentially toxic chemicals. As an alternative, many producers will opt for a “vegetable tanning process” that uses tannins and vegetable matter to tan the leather, to avoid using harmful chemicals. 

Companies like Veja, are also experimenting with new, potentially more sustainable sources of “leather,” like fish leather. These fish hides are typically thrown out by existing industries. Instead, they can potentially be upcycled. 

  • Cotton — 

Conventionally farmed cotton has been an environmental nightmare for the fashion industry. 

From the toxic and harmful pesticides used on the crops to the exorbitant amount of water used to grow them, brands that are sourcing organically grown cotton are making a much smaller environmental impact with their farming practices.

 [via Veja.com]

Verify that brands don’t just use “natural materials,” but rather, materials that can be verified as environmentally friendly—Fair Trade, Organic, or otherwise. 

  • Vegan Shoes & Cruelty Free — 

Vegan shoes are shoes made without the use of animal products. If made with other eco-friendly and sustainable materials, vegan shoes can have a lower environmental impact as you cut out the farming process needed to obtain the animal hides for leathers in the first place. 

And of course, in purchasing vegan shoes, you can be certain no animals were harmed in the production process. 

For a clear leader in vegan shoe brands, look to Will’s Vegan Store

  • Recycling & Upcycling — 

As waste piles up and innovations in sustainable production methods increase, the practices of recycling and upcycling materials have become rather popular (and we are happy about that)!

 [via rothys.com]

For example, Rothy’s is using plastic ocean waste to create their own fabrics that make their stylish and sustainable flats. 

Veja also makes their insoles out of wild rubber and recycled plastic bottles, along with other synthetic materials. 

Fair Trade & Working Conditions:

It’s no secret that the majority of shoe brands (and fashion brands in general) are going overseas to obtain their materials and setup or partner with foreign factories to produce their products. 

Of course, these companies are doing this because 1) most of the materials they need for these products are produced abroad (outside the U.S. & Canada),  2) they obtain labor for a fraction of the cost that they can in the U.S., and 3) the labor laws in other countries are oftentimes terrible, or nonexistent so fashion brands can get away with exploiting their workforce in terms of workplace conditions and laborer protections, further lowering costs (think: sweatshop and child labor). 

With this in mind, it’s imperative that international relationships and business partnerships are handled ethically and humanely. 

This means that the farmers and producers are paid fairly, factory workers are paid a healthy wage, and all workers have safe and quality working conditions. 

Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability:

No matter the industry, environmental responsibility is a priority. For instance, we here at Grow Ensemble have no physical products, and we run our business entirely on the internet, but we have made the commitment to measure our carbon emissions and certify Climate Neutral.

In the shoe industry, the environmental impact must be considered in all of the following: 

  • Production Methods & Manufacturing Process — 

How the materials are produced (like organic cotton vs. conventionally farmed cotton) can make a major difference in the environmental impact of a company’s production. Whether it’s cotton crops, or agricultural practices involved in raising sheep for wool, at a minimum we’d hope for organic farming. 

  • Product Durability & Product Life Cycle — 

The longer your pair of shoes lasts, the longer you can go without buying another pair, right? 

Sustainable shoe and fashion brands are being more conscientious in their use of high-quality materials and exhibiting greater levels of craft in their production for the sake of ensuring that their products last longer! 

And, when those boots do wear out finally, where do they go? The brands at the cutting edge of sustainability are considering this entire life cycle for their products, and in some cases, requesting you send your old shoes back to them to be repurposed! 

  • Packaging — 

When you get a new pair of shoes, what often accompanies them? Maybe plastic inserts helping the shoes maintain their shape, a plastic bag for each shoe, the box itself, packing peanuts, a plastic bag to carry it all out?

Brands like Frank and Oak use 100% recycled and recyclable shipping boxes. In their stores, their shopping bags are 100% recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable!

Often overlooked, with plastics and non-reusable materials, packaging can make for the greatest environmental impact. 

  • Shipping — 

Once those shoes are manufactured in a factory, let’s say, in Peru, they need to somehow make it to retail stores all over the world, right? That air travel, boat travel, or in some cases freight travel all emits carbon. 

This may be the argument for seeking out brands that keep their product as local as possible! And when they don’t, hopefully, at a minimum, they take the action to offset the emissions they create through their shipping process like Allbirds does!

Our #BuyEnsemble Favorite Sustainable Shoes & Shoe Brands for Men & Women!

1. Allbirds — The World’s Most Comfortable Shoe

Allbirds are some of our favorites here at Grow Ensemble. With a variety of styles and colors that serve different functions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pair that doesn’t work for you. 

For the coziest, choose any of the wool styles, for the lightest and breeziest, any of those made with their TENCEL™️ Lyocell tree fiber, and for those who need waterproof, grab the Mizzles. 

From each one of the carefully selected and sourced materials, like their merino wool that “requires 60% less energy than materials used in typical synthetic shoes,” or the recycled plastic water bottles they use to make their shoes laces, to the box they come in, which is made from 90% recycled cardboard, Allbirds considers sustainability from start to finish. 

Allbirds walks the walk with their B Corporation certification, 2019 commitment to go carbon neutral, and Soles4Souls® partnership where they donate returned shoes. 

Best of all, they give you “30 days to parade around town” in your new Allbirds to see if the fit is right for you. If it’s not, they’ll take them back and refund you 100%, no questions asked.

Price: 🤑🤑🤑

 PROS

  • SO Planet Friendly!
  • 30 Day “Confidence in Comfort” Trial
  • Plenty of styles & functions
  • Truly Better-for-the-world Business

 CONS

  • Limited athletic capacity 
  • No half sizes
  • Limited kids options
  • Higher-end of the price spectrum

2. Nisolo — A Vision for a Sustainable Fashion Industry

Nisolo is a Certified B Corporation offering beautiful handmade and ethically-produced men’s & women’s shoes. 

Founded on a more “sustainable vision for the fashion industry,” the Nisolo team first focused its efforts on creating exceptional products (in partnership with generational master shoemakers in Peru), and living wages for whatever workers played a part in their supply chain. 

In late 2019, in collaboration with another competitor and sustainable shoe brand (on this list), ABLE, Nisolo launched the #LowestWageChallenge, where they’ve encouraged consumers to nominate brands to reveal the true “lowest wage” throughout their entire supply chain. This is in hopes of creating momentum around establishing living wages for the “75 million people working to make the clothes we put on our bodies every day.”

While not their starting point, Nisolo is making strides on their environmental impact as well. Working with Soles4Souls® they’ve created a “Shoe Reclamation ” project where gently worn shoes are distributed to micro-entrepreneurs around the world to resell within their own communities. They are also working with Ecosphere+ to preserve and protect the Amazon rainforests. 

Nisolo is a direct-to-consumer brand (as they own their own factory in Peru) and have men’s and women’s shoes in a wide variety of styles. For women—boots, loafers, sneakers, mules, and more! For men—boots, sneakers, loafers, and oxfords!

Price: 🤑🤑🤑🤑🤑

 PROS

  • Guaranteed Living Wages for Workers
  • Exceptional Quality, Handmade Shoes
  • Variety of Styles 
  • Sustainable—should last forever!

 CONS

  • High-End on Price
  • Takes a minute to break-in the leather! 

3. Veja — A Transparent Shoe Company for ‘All to See’

Veja is a French Certified B Corporation shoe brand committed to extreme transparency in the shoe industry. Read up on the “Veja Project” and you’ll see the extreme commitment and care the people behind Veja put into every step of the process of making their sneakers—from the materials sourced, the factories’ working conditions, to their marketing spend (which is 0%). 

The founders had been working closely with another French company, fellow Certified B Corporation, AlterEco Foods, learning about the practices of Fair Trade. Inspired to address many of the issues that Fair Trade practices touch on, the would-be founders of Veja sought to apply these practices to another industry: sneakers. 

This led them to their ‘project’ of reinventing how they believe a sneaker company should run. 

They committed to take what would be the 70% of the operating budget that big shoe brands invest in advertising and marketing, and allocate that to where they believe it should go—into high-quality materials and highly ethical working conditions and trade practices for their vendors, suppliers, and workers.  

Veja takes extreme care with their materials. They rely on organic cotton, their fabrics made from recycled plastic water bottles, and sustainably sourced wild rubber and leathers.  

Veja’s sneakers are stylish, and they’ve committed to extreme transparency in their business practices. This transparency extends to the where and how their materials are sourced, the working conditions for all people involved in their supply chain, and even banking where they refuse to work with banks who store money in tax havens. 

Great sneakers for men, women, and kids, you’ll be able to find Fair Trade and Vegan options you’ll look good in and feel good about.

Price: 🤑🤑🤑🤑🤑

 PROS

  • Extremely transparent business practices
  • Ethically & Sustainably sourced materials
  • Fair Trade business practices
  • Certified B Corporation!

 CONS

  • Casual styles only

4. TOMS—An Original ‘Give Back’ Business

TOMS might be one of the most notable and one of the earliest examples of a ‘give-back’ business. Founded in 2006, TOMS began with it’s One for One business model, where for every pair of shoes purchased, another pair was given to a child in need. 

Since then, TOMS has become a wild success, and, acknowledging the limitations to shoes changing the world, they’ve radically evolved their methods of giving back and have continued to improve their practices of sustainability. 

TOMS became a Certified B Corporation in late 2018, further putting on display their commitment to “better business,” and they’ve recently released their “earthwise” line, a collection of products made with eco-friendly processes and materials. 

TOMS has a list of additional sustainability commitments: beginning to measure and reduce their carbon emissions, sourcing 100% of their packaging from sustainable forests, and sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. 

TOMS has, as well, launched a giving fund. For every $3 TOMS makes in annualized profits, they will invest $1 back into various grants and causes. 

TOMS, of course, has a vast product line with boots, shoes, slip ons, sneakers, and a few formal styles for men, women, and kids. Oftentimes, at very affordable prices too!

Want a sock that will make you feel as good as your TOMS? Check out our complete Bombas socks review to see how your Bombas purchase helps homeless shelters across the country.

Price: 🤑🤑/🤑

 PROS

  • Committed to evolving & expanding impact
  • Certified B Corporation
  • Wide variety of styles
  • Affordable shoes

 CONS

  • Not a fully sustainable store of products

5. Frank and Oak—Less Carbon in Your Footprints

Frank and Oak is a Canadian Certified B Corporation founded in 2012. They are committed to creating high-quality products in clothing and footwear and increasing the level of sustainability with which they do it. 

In the last few years, Frank and Oak have dramatically increased their commitments to environmental consciousness. In 2017, they were only making 5% of their styles with “minimal impact materials or processes,” but by 2019, that number has increased to 50%, and they have no desires to slow down. 

As a brand, they’ve prioritized using recycled and organic materials (like the coffee waste they use for their winter books crafted in Portugal), and eco-conscious production methods (like 100% recycled and recyclable shipping boxes and shopping bags). 

At the moment, they offer three styles of sustainable footwear for men and women, their Skipper and Drift sneakers, and their Navasca winter boot, which Frank and Oak say allows for more footprints of the ‘right kind.’ 

Not carbon footprints…get it?

Price: 🤑🤑🤑🤑🤑

 PROS

  • Certified B Corporation
  • Great sustainable winter boot
  • Innovative, eco-friendly materials

 CONS

  • Fewer options & styles for shoes

🌍Happy Planet, Happy Feet—Choosing Your Pair 👟

In every industry, from eco conscious mattress companies to eco friendly fashion brands, sustainability has become a critical priority. 

And this isn’t just Adidas coming out with a “sustainable line” to appease market trends while nothing is being done to truly mitigate their overall environmental impact. 

This is about truly ethical fashion and shoe brands standing up to bring sustainable business practices to the core of how they operate, source materials, treat their workers, and everything in between. 

We put this list together so you have some good options that might help you find shoes that feel good on your feet and that will feel good for the planet. 

Is there anyone on this list that we missed? Reach out and let us know!

Cory Ames

Cory Ames

Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble

Cory is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble, as well as the Host of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast. From Washington State, Cory now resides in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant fiancée and their rescue pup. Cory is deeply passionate about using his creative and cognitive capacities for doing good. 

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