The sustainable footwear revolution has begun, here are five brands leading the way

From eco-friendly sneakers to vegan heels, here’s a list of five brands that Thred considers the best names in sustainable footwear right now. 

With shoes being one of the most wasteful retail items to produce, it makes sense that footwear brands would want to start thinking more sustainably given our current climate crisis.

Alarmingly, out of the 23 billion pairs of shoes that are manufactured each year 300 million are thrown away. And, to make matters worse, it takes between three and four decades for them to completely decompose in a landfill as they’re often made of virgin plastic, rubber, and petroleum.

Although the booming shoe industry shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, as shoppers become increasingly aware of the environmental concerns associated with their shopping habits, several brands are starting to be more incentivised to offer eco-conscious alternatives.

‘Sustainability is an important theme in retail at the moment, so much so that younger consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products,’ says sportswear retail expert, Matt Powell. ‘Brands have long been concerned about making products sustainably, but they’re being more forward and open about it now.’ Setting a new standard with their groundbreaking, innovative designs and use of recycled materials, here are five responsible brands well on their way to changing how the industry thinks.

Dr. Martens

This one might shock you. When you hear ‘Dr. Martens’ you might automatically think: ‘leather’ followed by ‘but that’s not sustainable! It’s not even vegan!’ Well, as is very clearly written in their manifesto: ‘at Dr. Martens we stand for doing the right thing, we always have, and always will.’

Holding true across all of their operations from the brand’s involvement with charity to its commitment to ethical trade, this statement also applies to its dedication to having as minimal an impact on the environment as possible.

In fact, it’s even a signatory of the Better Retail, Better World scheme which is an initiative for brands taking action against some of the biggest global challenges of the coming decade (one of which, of course, being climate change).

With products built to last — and last they do (seriously, I’ve been wearing the same pair for ever) — Dr. Martens has a lifetime warranty collection, an entire vegan range, and uses packaging made from 100% post-consumer waste.

It also aims to use sustainable materials as much as possible like recycled airbags, cork, and pineapple leather which can be found in a large majority of its products.

Veja

This French footwear label prioritises social responsibility, ethical sourcing, and transparency over anything else. The mavens of ethically produced trainers, Veja’s entire collection of stylish, environmentally friendly shoes is made from raw materials sourced from ecological agriculture without using chemicals or polluting processes.

‘For the last five years, Veja has used ‘fish leather’ from tilapia in our shoes,’ states  the brand’s website. ‘Usually discarded by freshwater fish farms, the skin gets upcycled through a handcrafted process involving vegetable dyeing. We also buy all our rubber in the Amazon forest, directly from seringueiro communities. Since 2004, Veja has purchased 130 tons of wild rubber, preserving 120,000 hectares of the Amazon.’

Offering both vegan and sustainable leather options, its signature V-10 sneaker is lined with organic cotton, cork, and Pinatex then fitted onto a wild Amazonian rubber sole. Plus, proving that eco-friendly fashion has the ability to stand alongside some of the biggest names in luxury, Veja is regularly spotted on the front row of fashion weeks and has been worn by the likes of Meghan Markle, Emily Ratajkowski, and Chloe Grace Moritz (to name a few).

Toms

Introducing earthwise. We're in business to improve lives, which means taking care of the place we call home. Shop earthwise.

Now a household name, Toms is known for its holiday-ready slip-ons and One for One™ campaign, which matches every pair of shoes bought with a pair of new shoes that’s given to a child in need.

Continuing to expand, the footwear label currently dedicates at least one-third of its annual profits to a giving fund and has recently jumped on the sustainability bandwagon with its ever-growing range of  sustainably made vegan shoes.

The Earthwise collection includes insoles made from 26% eco-content, linings made from wood pulp, and uses hemp, chemical free inks, organic cotton, and recycled polyester for the rest.

And, similar to Dr. Martens, all of its boxes are 80% recycled post consumer waste. So, if you’re searching for that perfect summer espadrille that isn’t going to make you feel bad about your impact on the environment, Toms is where it’s at.

Piferi

On the luxury side of things is Alfredo Pīferi, former designer at Jimmy Choo and Burberry. After striking out on his own to launch an eponymous vegan luxury brand, Pīferi understands how to craft a shoe that’s both commercial and fashion-forward, architecturally aesthetic and environmentally responsible.

‘I started Pīferi with the idea of creating a product with a purpose. It’s not just about shoes, but more about what they stand for’ he says. ‘All my shoes are leather free, and for me this is a challenge. I think it’s really what the future holds for us.’

From heeled, flower-resembling sandals made with recycled polyester, to suede boots made with recycled plastic bottles, Pīferi has attracted the attention of top retailers around the world.

‘Pīferi is a have-it-all brand and rewrites the rules of the market,’ says consultant and advisor for major brands, Paola Riva. ‘When it comes to fashion, the concept of modernity and desirability is a complex interconnection of emotional and tangible aspects. Pīferi has a distinctive design and innovative brand codes…and is  determined to be responsible toward the environment.’

Adidas

Easily the most vocal about its sustainability efforts, when it comes to mainstream sportswear brands, Adidas is at the forefront of the sustainable footwear revolution and has been for years. 

Alongside its collaboration with Parley for the Oceans which saw the sneaker label produce a shoe using yarn made from illegal deep-sea gill nets and recycled ocean plastic, Adidas has sold well over five million pairs of sustainable sneakers so far and continues to incorporate recycled materials into its shoe designs.

It even recently tapped eco-queen Stella McCartney for an eco-friendly workout collection that successfully merges sustainable practices with activewear. Launching on Earth Day last week, the two brands are offering a variety of different products, all made from recycled polyester. And yes, the sneakers are stunning as always check them out here.

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