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MoEa shoes ; green is the new black

Sustainable Sneakers: 17 Brands for Eco-Friendly Kicks

These 17 eco-friendly shoe brands are doing things differently. From sustainable materials and ethical production to circular economies and stylish design. Shop consciously for these sustainable sneakers next time you need a new pair.

Shoes are big business. Over 20 billion pairs are made worldwide each year. In 2021, the global sneaker market was worth USD$66bn, with experts predicting an increase to USD$103bn by 2025. It’s a tad (*read really) concerning then that trainers are traditionally made using materials like plastic, nylon, and synthetic rubber. You don’t need us to tell you that ain’t particularly eco-friendly. Combine that with the chemical solvents used to bind them together, and you’ve got a product that’s near impossible to recycle.

And that’s before we even get to production (which includes energy-intensive methods like injection moulding and foaming) and the impoverished working conditions for thousands of people. Thankfully, public awareness of unsafe and unethical working conditions is on the rise thanks to social media movements like #WhoMadeMyClothes. But Oxfam reports like this highlight there’s still a long way to go.

In recent years we’ve seen major sneaker brands take strides towards sustainability. Adidas, for example, made some major moves in 2020 — with 55% lower carbon emissions, a 30% reduction in waste, and a 23% reduction in energy consumption. They seem to be making progress on their goals. Nike, on the other hand, launched its Move to Zero initiative in 2019. However, it’s not entirely on track to reach its initial goal of 100% renewable energy in its owned-and-operated facilities by 2025 (the latest 2021 goal has been brought down to 65% renewable by 2025).

But if you need a new pair of sustainable sneakers and want to steer clear of mass-produced, commercial brands, there are some excellent humans out there who have taken it upon themselves to do things differently. Here are our favourite conscious kicks that are booting old-school shoe dogs off their pedestal.

Allbirds shoes conscious kicks
Image credit: Allbirds // Forrest & Michelle (@tropicophoto on IG)

Allbirds

Based in: San Francisco, USA

Materials used: Eucalyptus fibres, recycled plastic, sugarcane-based green EVA, castor bean oil

Collections: Men, women

This ethical and sustainable sneakers brand took the world by storm and very quickly became a cult favourite. What’s their secret? Sustainable materials, a traceable supply chain, and its claim to fame — comfort. Often touted as the world’s comfiest sneaker, Allbirds uses only the best materials for its signature woven shoes. These include FSC-Certified TENCEL Lyocell (eucalyptus tree fibres), recycled plastic bottles for laces, castor bean oil for the insole foam, and SweetFoam, a sugarcane-based green EVA for the midsole. Finally, Allbirds is a Certified B-Corporation and is completely carbon neutral. You can read more about its sustainability initiatives here.

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Thousand Fell conscious shoes
Image credit: Thousand Fell // @sociopxth_

Thousand Fell

Based in: New York, USA

Materials used: Corn waste, coconut husk, recycled plastic

Collections: Men, women

Thousand Fell is leading the charge in circular footwear. Their comfy, practical, and long-lasting sustainable sneakers are made with corn waste, coconut husk, and recycled plastic — no leather here! And the best part? They’re fully recyclable! Once you’re done with your pair, you can send them back to be recycled into a new pair. To incentivize people to do this, they give you $20 for every pair you return.  

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Veja conscious sneakers, Green Is The New Black
Image credit: Veja

Veja

Based in: UK

Materials used (in its vegan collection): Organic cotton, corn waste, recycled polyester, recycled rubber

Collections: Men, women, kids

Another certified B-Corp, Veja is all about promoting slow fashion. Designed to last 10 years, not 10 minutes, Veja’s philosophy is refreshing in a world addicted to fast fashion and consumerism. It does have some leather sneakers, but also has a vegan collection made from organic cotton, corn starch, rice waste, recycled rubber, and recycled polyester. Additionally, it keeps its products affordable by ditching advertising (which for a regular sneaker brand can be as high as 70% of the cost). Smart. Veja also works closely with Ateliers Sans Frontières, a job reintegration workshop that helps approximately 100 vulnerable individuals to find work and regain social stability every year. 

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Avre conscious kicks; green is the new black
Image credit: Avre

Avre

Based in: Walnut, California, USA

Materials used: Recycled PET, algae foam

Collections: Women

Avre is a sustainable sneakers brand owned and run by two incredible Asian women (and sisters), Julie and Connie Kuo. Chunky sneakers are back in vogue, and we’re obsessed with Avre’s collection. The brand uses recycled plastic bottles (PET) as its signature material, and each pair keeps around ten bottles from being dumped in the oceans. It also uses algae foam for its BLOOM insoles which are super supportive and padded. The algae clog and pollute waterways, so when it’s removed it generates clean water and reverses the effects of water pollution.  

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Conscious kicks, green is the new black
Image credit: Flamingos Life

Flamingos Life

Based in: Elche, Spain

Materials used: Recycled plastic, organic cotton, natural rubber, natural fibres like corn and bamboo

Collections: Gender neutral 

Retro is back in fashion, and this vegan Spanish sneaker brand is in on the trend. Its collection of gender-neutral kicks come in a classic off-white, with a pop of colour — we’re currently loving this pair with the mustard yellow logo (€140). The brand uses an impressive list of sustainable materials for its sneakers, including GOTS certified organic cotton, natural rubber, recycled plastic, and innovative natural fibres like corn waste, bamboo, and hemp. Finally, we love that each of its collections is associated with a special social project: Agua ONG to build water wells in Uganda, Eden Reforestation Projects for reforestation efforts in Madagascar and Mozambique, Waste Free Oceans for ocean clean up and educational projects. 

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ID.EIGHT conscious shoes
Image credit: ID.EIGHT

ID.EIGHT

Based in: Firenze, Italy

Materials used: Pineapple leaves, apple peels, grape seeds, recycled plastic, organic cotton

Collections: Gender neutral

Sneakers made from pineapple leaves, apple peels, and grape skins? When it comes to using innovative materials to make eco-friendly kicks, ID.EIGHT is on top of the game. And these bio-materials are all upcycled of course. For example, Piñatex is made from the waste leaves of pineapples grown in the Philippines, AppleSkin from leftover apple peels and core from the juice industry in Italy, and Vegea from grape skins, stalks, and seeds that are a by-product of wine production (also in Italy). It also uses recycled mesh and organic cotton, and of course, the packaging is recycled and recyclable. And when it comes to style — if you’re looking to make a bold statement, its showstopper kicks in gold (189), silver (189), or neon (179) are the way to go!

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Saye conscious hi-tops ; green is the new black
Image credit: Saye

Saye

Based in: Barcelona, Spain

Materials used: Mango, cactus, corn, bamboo, organic cotton, recycled synthetics, rubber 

Collections: Gender neutral

Saye is another brand that’s all about using innovative bio-materials. Think “leather” from corn waste, cactus leaves, and discarded mangoes. It also uses recycled PET or bamboo for linings, natural and synthetic rubber for outsoles, recycled PU foam for insoles, organic cotton for laces, and repurposed plastic plates and wood chips for reinforcements. It should be no surprise then that Saye prides itself on its traceable supply chain. The brand also plants two trees for each pair of sneakers sold (it’s currently at over 200,000 and counting), and the carbon footprint of each pair is approximately 50% less than that of the industry average. Saye has a retro-ey vibe going for it too, with its classic off white-with-an-accent-color ($176), high-tops ($188), or chunky kicks ($81 on sale).

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cariuma conscious kicks
Image credit: Alana Blanchard, pro-surfer // Cariuma

Cariuma

Based in: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Materials used: Recycled PET, rubber, cork, cotton, bamboo, leather

Collections: Men, women

Cariuma is another certified B-Corp, and its vintage-inspired, timeless styles are designed to last years. Amongst its impressive list of sustainable materials is recycled PET, natural rubber, cork, organic cotton, and bamboo. It also does use leather sourced from ethical tanneries (that aren’t from areas deforested by cattle), so if you’re OK with leather products, this is a decent option. All its packaging comes from 100% recyclable materials (and is, of course, recyclable itself). Plus the shipping and transportation of its products are carbon-neutral. Finally, it’s hot on fair wages and safe working conditions for its local craftsmen. And we haven’t even mentioned how natty its trainers are: they’re natty, FYI.

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K!BO conscious shoes
Image credit: Sneakers – K!BO // Ethical outfit – Caelum Greene

K!BO

Based in: Hong Kong

Materials used: Recycled leather and plastic, cork, rubber, TENCEL Lyocell

Collections: Men, women

Natalie Chow, the founder of K!BO, puts the environment first and people above profits. The brand is a big champion of upcycling and uses recycled leather scraps and canvas for its two collections. It also uses repurposed plastic bottles, natural cork and recycled rubber for insoles, TENCEL Lyocell or recycled cotton for lining, and natural rubber for outsoles. Additionally, it reuses 95% of the water used in the dying process and eliminates as many effluents as possible. Combine that with a simple, classic design, and you’ve got a winning pair of sustainable sneakers. At the heart of the brand is a vision to fight human trafficking and modern slavery. K!BO partners with Compassion First, a non-profit working to empower survivors of sex trafficking and help them rebuild their lives. Each pair of K!BO sold contributes to the program expenses. 

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MoEa conscious shoes ; Green is the new black
Image credit: MoEa

MoEa

Based in: Paris, France

Materials used: Pineapple leaves, apple peels, grape seeds, corn, cactus

Collections: Gender neutral

MoEa is a Parisienne brand that creates vegan sneakers out of a range of innovative bio-materials  — pineapple leaves, apple peels, grape seeds, cactus leaves, and corn waste. On average, vegan bio-materials emit almost 89% less carbon than animal leather. Pretty great, right? We love these versatile corn sneakers in all cream (€149) for everyday wear, or if you’re looking to make a statement check out these apple sneakers in a bold red (€149). And as part of its circular fashion initiative, the brand takes back used sneakers and recycles them into new soles. This saves up to 40% of rubber in each new pair of kicks. MoEa is also a 1% for the Planet Member and has committed to protecting forests with WWF. 

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Ethletica conscious trainers; Green is the new black
Image credit: Ethletica

Ethletic

Based in: Lübeck, Germany

Materials used: Natural rubber, organic cotton

Collections: Gender neutral

If you’re looking for a pair of ethical and sustainable sneakers, look no further — Ethletic has nailed it. This vegan brand uses only FSC-certified natural rubber and Fairtrade-certified organic cotton. It subsidizes repairs to its trainers to make them last longer. It donates $1 from every pair sold to the Workers Welfare Society (an organization striving for better working conditions for factory workers in rural Pakistan). It’s a fairtrade award winner. It’s got a shiny vegan PETA certification. It ships products rather than use air freight to reduce emissions. We could go on.. you get the gist.

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https://www.instagram.com/p/B600vu-p_tm/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Good Guys

Based in: Paris, France

Materials used: Cotton, rubber, vegan apple leather

Collections: Men, women

100% vegan. 100% stylish. France’s first vegan shoe company swears by its mantra: “Good guys don’t wear leather”. The brand has been creating cruelty- and sweatshop-free sustainable sneakers (and boots, sandals, and more) since 2011. All their materials are sourced and produced in Europe and are OEKO-Tex Standard 100 certified (which means they’re free from harmful toxins). They also use innovative materials like AppleSkin, a bio-based leather made from waste from the apple juice industry. On our lust list: These neon running shoes (€149).

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N'go conscious trainers; Green is the new black
Image credit: N’go

N’go

Based in: Nantes, France

Materials used: Recycled plastic, recycled leather

Collections: Gender neutral

We’re fans of this one for multiple reasons. First, the cute designs are inspired by Vietnamese culture and are made using recycled leather and plastic. Second, thanks to its partnership with Zero Waste Shoes, once you’re done wearing a pair, simply return them. They will either be scrubbed up and resold second-hand, or broken down and recycled. Third, a percentage of profits go towards funding a non-profit that educates local Vietnamese kids. And finally, it looks after its traditional artisans. You can see exactly who made your sneakers right here.

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Conscious shoes ethical kicks
Image credit: Tropicfeel

Tropic Feel

Based in: Barcelona, Spain

Materials used: Castor bean oil, recycled polyester, algae foam

Collections: Men, women

We’re all about consuming less as a general rule. This is why the Tropic Feel concept speaks to us; why have four pairs of sneakers when you can have one? Each 4-in-1 pair is multi-functional — it has the comfort of a walking shoe, the outsole of a hiking shoe, you can wear it while swimming, and the look of a trendy everyday sneaker. And it’s not just the versatility that makes it sustainable. The brand uses recycled and eco-friendly materials in its products, including recycled polyester and Bloom Foam, which is a flexible foam harvested from algae. And, it actively measures its impact with the help of an external agency and has a continual focus on improving every step of its supply chain to reduce impact. We approve.

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Conscious kicks ethical shoes
Image credit: Faguo

Faguo

Based in: Paris, France

Materials used: Recycled leather and plastic

Collections: Men, women, gender-neutral

Another certified B-Corp, Faguo’s mission is built on five pillars: Measure its CO2 emissions, reduce emissions, offset its emissions, promote reuse and repair, and finally be transparent about its supply chain. Once you’re done with your Faguo sneakers, you can send them back to the brand. If they’re still in good shape, Faguo resells them in its second-hand corner for 20% off, and if the shoes are too worn out they’re recycled into a brand new pair. Also, Faguo organizes free repair workshops twice a month in its boutiques to fix small rips and extend the life of your shoes — contact your nearest boutique to learn more. We’d recommend shopping from its recycled collection. Check out these recycled white and gold sneakers in leather (€110).  

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Perus conscious shoes; Green is the new black
Image credit: Perus

Perus

Based in: Paris, France

Materials used: REACH certified leather, natural rubber

Collections: Gender-neutral 

A backpacking trip around Peru (obvs) was all the inspiration necessary for the three founders of Perus. Fast forward to now, and this burgeoning Inca-inspired sneaker line is one to watch. Hand-crafted by skilled artisans in Peru using canvas, REACH certified leather, and natural rubber, several of its lines are completely vegan. It also collaborates with NGO Warita which supports various educational projects in La Paz.

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Luxury conscious shoes
Image via Vestiaire Collective

BONUS: Vestiaire Collective

Based in: Paris, France

Vestiaire Collective is a global platform for pre-loved fashion. Second-hand fashion is always a great alternative to buying new when it comes to sustainability. And Vestiaire Collective has an incredible selection of pre-loved designer sneakers, including Balenciaga, Luis Vuitton, and Alexander McQueen. The shoes are in great condition, affordable, and of course — sustainable!

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Featured image: An AppleSkin red sneaker from MoEa. Image credit: MoEa

 

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