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If you like to dress well, shoes are probably a top priority for you. As fashion designer Christian Louboutin said, “A shoe isn’t only a design but a part of your body language. The way you walk is dictated by the shoes you wear.” But does your footwear reflect your planet-friendly values? How sustainable are your shoes?
The good news is that some brands are designing shoes with sustainability in mind. Much of this progressive design is taking place in the athletic shoe industry, which continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. More than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are made every year. The world population is 7.8 billion, so that’s almost three pairs of sneakers per person.
But, 300 million pairs of sneakers are also thrown away annually, and a pair takes at least 30 years to decompose fully; many will remain in landfills for centuries. If you can’t repair your shoes and are ready to buy new ones, we’ve got a list of casual shoes with much improved environmental footprints for your consideration.
While no pair of shoes is entirely eco-friendly, information about what they’re made from, who makes them, and a transparent supply chain can help sustainable shoppers find the right products. We found six sustainable sports and casual shoes you can buy without compromising on style and performance.
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1. Adidas Superstar Vegan Shoe
Adidas wasn’t a sustainable fashion brand for most of its history. But it’s come a long way since its advent and is way ahead of other big sportswear brands. The brand recently received Ethical Consumer’s best rating for Environmental Reporting in 2020. Adidas has committed to reducing its own and suppliers’ greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2030 and achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
Adidas is trying to help the environment in two ways – by using plastic waste to build shoes and by eliminating the use of animal products. The Adidas Superstar Vegan shoe for men and women is made without using any animal products. Its smooth synthetic upper includes recycled material. As for style, the pair has that vintage look and feel you see in all “Superstar” sneakers. The shoe is available in black and white.
2. VIVAIA Valencia Flats
VIVAIA presents itself as an eco-friendly footwear brand for women. The company transforms plastic bottles into shoes using a “3D Tech Knit” technology that leaves zero waste. The insoles of all VIVAIA shoes are made from natural latex foam and the outsoles are made from carbon-free rubber. The company also uses 90% recycled cardboard for packaging and strives for fair and healthy working conditions for factory employees.
Each pair of VIVAIA Valencia Flats is made from six recycled plastic bottles and features a thick-cut natural latex insole and carbon-free rubber outsole. With an ultra-soft upper, these pointed-toe flats are comfortable, stylish, and ideal for any occasion. Shown here in tan and russet, the flats are available in five other color combinations.
3. Mahabis Curve Animal Slipper
Mahabis is a footwear brand on a mission to blend style with sustainability. Mahabis makes its slippers using natural Corriedale and Romney wool. All their suppliers audited for their social and ethical performance by Sedex and follow the principles of the Ethical Trading Initiative. The company also offers a recycling program. They come to your doorstep to collect your used Mahabis and recycle the shoes to make a new product. You can earn rewards for participating in the recycling program.
The Mahabis Curve Animal Slipper is a fun casual slipper for men and women. The upper is made from premium pony skin (cowhide) leather, and the lining from EcoCert certified organic wool. It’s available in two different animal prints and an excellent pick if you are looking for casual, comfortable footwear for lounging at home or popping out for an errand.
4. Allbirds Women’s Tree Skippers
Allbirds plans to eliminate its products’ carbon footprint and become one of the first net-zero fashion brands. For now, you can examine the carbon footprint of any product in their catalog, and Allbirds offsets its remaining CO2 emissions. The company uses natural wool for its products, along with recycled bottles, castor bean oil, recycled cardboard, and other novel materials.
The Women’s Tree Skippers are made from responsibly sourced eucalyptus tree fiber and other renewable materials. Cushioned, flexible, and breathable, the silky-smooth boat shoe is ideal for warmer days. It’s available in five colors and is a perfect fit for casual and semiformal occasions.
5. Nothing New Men’s Low Top Sneakers
Nothing New blends sustainability with style. The company claims that it wants to make products that not only do good but also look good. They use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for their products, along with conflict-free metal alloys, recycled rubber, recycled cotton, and recycled fishing nets. The company also has a carbon neutrality commitment to invest in carbon offsets that make it carbon neutral every year.
Each pair of Nothing New Men’s Low Top sneakers is made from 5.6 recycled plastic bottles and saves 160 gallons of water. We have a pair and found them durable and comfortable, although we noted they tend to fit a little narrower than other shoes. These classic canvas low tops come in 16 colors and 10 sizes and are ideal for casual occasions.
6. Nike Space Hippie 04 for Women
Like Adidas, Nike didn’t start as a sustainable brand. Until a few years ago, it was criticized for using sweatshops and unethical manufacturing practices. Recently, Nike has taken steps to reduce its adverse impact on the environment, including adopting sustainable practices and eco-friendly materials, such as organic or recycled cotton and polyester. It has also implemented water reduction initiatives in its supply chain.
The Nike Space Hippie 04 is one of Nike’s eco-friendly products. At least 25% of the shoe is made from recycled material, including recycled plastic bottles, yarn scraps, and used T-shirts. Nike claims that the Space Hippie has the lowest carbon footprint in its catalog. This women’s shoe has a sporty look, and its lightweight silhouette makes it ideal for walking, jogging, and exercising.
Put Some Green in Your Step
Going eco-friendly isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. No brand is currently 100% sustainable, but these companies are making an effort to reduce their environmental impact and give back to planet Earth as much as possible. By shopping from these footwear brands, you vote for sustainable shoes and encourage manufacturers to keep doing the right thing.