Looking and feeling great in a cool pair of kicks doesn’t have to come at the expense of the planet. Fact.
Fashion isn’t known to be one of the most sustainable industries at the best of times – and fast fashion retailers, such as Shein – are the worst culprits.
At present, the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 20% of water waste, and in terms of air miles – it wracks up more than the shipping and aviation sectors combined.
This is why it is more important than ever to start taking fashion sustainability seriously – which in our fast-paced, busy lifestyles, isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
Luckily, we’re here to help! Below are some of the best ethical shoes from sustainable brands that work diligently to create fantastic footwear at no expense of the Earth.
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What are Sustainable Shoes?
You’d be forgiven for not committing much time to think about the backstory of what goes onto your feet.
Whether you consider yourself a fashionista or not, we all need shoes. They protect our feet from a multitude of things we really don’t want to stop on/in, help keep us warm, and protect our tootsies from injuries.
But what separates sustainable shoes from any old pair of keds from any old retailer?
Sustainable Shoe Meaning
Eco-friendly shoes are made from recycled or environmentally-friendly materials, such as organic cotton, hemp, flax, recycled plastic or rubber, etc. However, the catch is that these items must be responsibly sourced – that includes fair labour, safe harvesting, and ethical handling and transportation.
Traditionally, shoes are made from materials such as leather, which are not ethical because they are not cruelty-free. Non-organic cotton isn’t much better for the environment, because its production relies on mind-bogglingly high levels of water (a single cotton t-shirt alone requires 2,475 litres of water – for one garment).
In short, sustainable shoes are crafted and sold in an ethical manner, and feature materials that are ethically-sourced and distributed.
How Can I be More Environmentally-Friendly With My Footwear?
By law, companies aren’t required to be entirely transparent about their trading standards – and that includes the ethics behind product manufacturing. However, a brand that prides itself on being sustainable will almost always have the evidence to back it up.
Walking into your average shoe shop or fashion retailer to find eco-friendly shoes may seem similar to finding a needle in a haystack. However, it’s actually easier than you think.
A good start would be to commit to only purchasing pre-loved shoes, clothing, and accessories (for example, from charity shops). Not only does this mean you can regularly contribute to charitable causes, but it stops unwanted items ending up in landfills.
If you prefer to purchase items that are brand new – no problem. We have curated a list of sustainable retailers to help you find the kicks of your dreams, without harming your wallet or the environment!
Top 5 Ethical Shoes from Sustainable Retailers
Ethical shoes are not as hard to find as you might imagine – or as expensive. Here’s what’s on offer:
“Doing right by the planet.”
Whatever your style, Aspiga has something for you. Whether you’re looking for pre-loved or brand new, their selection of footwear is awe-inspiring. But what separates them from any other fashion retailer?
Aspiga’s mission is to create a more socially and environmentally-friendly future by working with responsible, sustainable suppliers, who are committed to putting the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants first.
They also do their bit to give back to charitable causes, as well as fighting social and environmental injustices. One of their most notable accomplishments was the Aspiga Beach Clean-Up campaign in 2019.
We consider EarthHero as one of our go-to sustainable online marketplaces.
And as for eco-friendly shoes? There’s a pretty good selection….
EarthHero is transparent about their material and ingredient sourcing, and prioritises organically-grown products, as well as ensuring their brands use natural, renewable fibres and plant-based, organic ingredients (which are free from any artificial ‘nasties’).
As far as values go, EarthHero is hot on inclusion and fairness, and include brands from the following areas:
- Vegan products
- Safe & fair labour
- LBGTQIA+ empowering
- Zero-waste packaging
- Upcycled & recycled materials
- Responsibly-certified brands
“Small & sustainable….” Say goodbye to that Shein subscription and get going with Garmentory!
Garmentory has a BIG range of ethical shoes and sustainable slippers, and is one of the best online marketplaces for slow fashion. By working with small, indie businesses only, Garmentory offers a vast, impressive stage of stylish and sustainable items – and that includes footwear.
Not only does this company support non-corporate organisations (which is an important step towards supporting the local economy), but they care about the environment. They also give back to both local and global charities, including Black Women’s Blueprint, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, LBGTQ Freedom Fund, and 1% for the Planet.
“Guided by a desire to create timeless pieces that respect our planet & its people.”
Nothing oozes Parisian chic like Sézane.
Whether you’re in the market for a good pair of autumn ankle boots, or a comfy (yet stylish) set of sneakers, Sézane’s shoe range can hook you up! But what about their sustainability and solidarity?
Well, Sézane is officially a B-Corp-certified organisation, meaning they operate with commendable ethics, including implementing sustainable production methods, working conditions, and the use of raw materials, as well as supporting non-corporate retailer communities, and being mindful of their carbon footprint.
“Responsibility is a journey, and we are committed to being purposeful in our approach to fashion.”
Last – but certainly not least – is our friends over at ABLE.
ABLE has a cool range of stylish and affordable ethical shoes and sustainable slippers. What we also love about ABLE is their commitment to looking out for the planet and its people, and also that it cares about something fundamentally important (and universally ignored by most of the fashion industry) – body inclusivity.
So many of us – regardless of gender identity – struggle with our body image, and so, ABLE designs clothing to fit YOU – not the other way around.
ABLE (which is a women-run organisation) also endeavours to take responsibility for its impact on the planet and its residents. A cause that is particularly close to their heart is female empowerment. This means their company ensures every woman working for them has:
- A living wage
- Ownership in the company
- The option for 100% private healthcare coverage.
- Full maternity leave
- A flexible work schedule
- Infertility and adoption assistance.
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Ethical Shoes & Sustainable Shopping FAQs
Aside from the brands mentioned above, we also love:
–Allbirds (most shoes contain wool – so look for alternatives!)
–Rothy’s (I have a pair of these and they’re super comfy!)
–The Root Collective
Again, any company referenced within this article (with the exception of Shein) does not use sweatshops, and fully endorses safe and fair labour.
Sweatshops are notoriously unethical and indifferent to fair pay, as well as safe and healthy work environments. In fact, sweatshops are known to violate more than one labour law, as outlined by the U.S Department of Health, including poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, child labour, and lack of benefits and other human rights.
Because of this, our list has been curated by brands who are not only fair and ethical to the planet, but also to its residents.
This varies from brand to brand. While trade laws and ethics are relatively new, many brands are now taking steps to watch their carbon footprint, as well as using environmentally-friendly and/or cruelty-free products/materials.
Many designers, such as Stella McCartney, refuse to use unethical materials in their designs, including fur, angora, leather, non-organically sourced wool, and hides, such as snake or alligator skin.
When shopping for ethical shoes – or any other product for that matter – logos/certifications to look out for include:
-Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Brands to avoid include:
-Abercrombie & Fitch
As well as “fast fashion” outlets, such as:
We hope you have found this list of brands to get involved with (and who to avoid) useful when looking for ethical shoes by sustainable retailers!
Remember – the cardinal rule is: Fast fashion = bad. Slow fashion = good.
You can learn more about our own sustainability ethics and values at Herbivore at Home here!