Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Christy Brown #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Christy Dawn
Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Allbirds #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Allbirds
Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Darzah #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Darzah

13 Ethical Shoe Brands To Put Your Best (Eco) Foot Forward


Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, quite literally. 

But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, who are the ethical shoe brands?

We’re talking truly ethical here, not just the brands greenwashing us. Jump to the bottom of the article for more info on how we compiled this list of ethical shoe brands.

For those on the run and looking for the very best ethical shoes, some of our top picks for sustainable and ethical shoes include:

Allbirds, the comfiest eco friendly shoes, which we personally wear and love. Christy Dawn and their upcycled materials make them one of the go-to ethical shoe brands for women. If you’re looking for ethical shoe brands for dressing up, check out the socially conscious shoes from Darzah.

*This post contains affilate links

1. ABLE

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by ABLE #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by ABLE
About ABLE

Are you aware that just 2% of fashion workers are paid a livable wage? 

ABLE wants to change this by employing women around the world and paying them well above living wages—and they’ve got the transparency to back it up.

The Nashville-based ethical luxury shoe brand invests in women so they can break the cycle of poverty and thrive. It started with scarves, but now they have a range of clothes, leather bags, jewelry, and some of the most ethical shoes out. 

If you’re looking for ethical womens shoes, you’re in luck. ABLE makes some of the cutest boots, sneakers, flats, heels, and sandals around.

ABLE’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

ABLE sells a lot of different shoes, which means there are a lot of different materials to lace up.

Common ones include microsuede (AKA polyester), TPR (a mixture of rubber and plastic), cotton (for laces) and cow-based leather. ABLE also only uses leather that is a byproduct of the meat industry which uses less energy than the production of vegan leather.

There are a few exceptions we’re wary (and inquiring about), like their napa leather (made from sheep, lamb, or kid skin) and snake leather. We’re unsure how these are sourced so would rather opt for other ethical pairs. 

Overall, ABLE still has room to improve here.

Supply chain & labor practices:

While ABLE’s materials are not the best in terms of sustainability, this is where they shine.

In 2018, this fair trade shoe brand did something revolutionary. They became the first fashion brand to publish their lowest paid wages. With a goal to end the cycles of poverty in the fashion industry, they realized transparency and accountability were the only way forward.

This lengthy process started by releasing their Nashville wages, then their Ethiopia wages the following year. Soon, they will have published wages for all manufacturing partners.

In addition to being fully transparent with wages, the company bares all in terms of benefits, equality, child labor, forced labor, workers rights, and more. You can also see where every ethical shoe has been made in the product description. 

Green business practices:

ABLE is also big on the environmental sustainability of their operations.

They repurpose shipping boxes and are in the process of transitioning from poly bags to cloth dust bags. Footwear comes in FSC-certified packaging.

While leather tanning is the most eco friendly process, they mitigate its impact by only working with leather tanneries who use clean water practices. 

Available: ABLE

2. ALLBIRDS

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Allbirds #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Allbirds
About Allbirds

As a certified B-Corp that makes some of the most comfortable sustainable shoes for men, women, and kids alike, it’s no surprise that Allbirds has shot to a cult-pop ethical shoe status.

Aside from sneakers, including both runners and hightop “mizzles”, they also sell loungers (a.k.a slippers), breezers, skippers, and toppers. The only thing more adorable than those names are the designs themselves.

Allbirds was founded by American renewables expert Joey Zwillinger and New Zealander Tim Brown and these days they operate out of San Francisco.

Allbird’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Material:

Allbirds shoes are made with four materials: wool, tree, sugar, or Trino™. 

The wool shoes, are made of ZQ Merino. They’re not vegan, but the wool is ethically sourced and they require 60% less energy to manufacture than synthetic shoes.

Their tree shoes use TENCEL Lyocell (aka eucalyptus pulp) grown with 95% less water and produced in a clean, closed-loop process.

Combine these two (tree + Merino) and you get Trino™ – a soft and breathable fiber that naturally reduces odor. 

They maximize the use of recycled content, replacing synthetics with recycled plastic bottle laces and bio-based TPU eyelets. This also means using partial castor bean oil midsoles, though it doesn’t totally eliminate EVA.  

Allbirds is also transitioning to using SweetFoam™ (a Proforest certified material made from sustainably sourced Brazilian sugarcane) for the outsoles. They use byproducts to power the mill and fertilize the sugarcane field, making Sweetfoam the world’s first carbon-negative EVA. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

You can see where your Allbirds are made on their website, but here’s a summary. 

They ethically source all merino from New Zealand using stringent animal welfare standards, and the wool is also mulesing-free. It’s then spun in Milan, Italy in Europe’s only European Commission certified sustainable wool mill. 

The TENCEL Lyocell is made from FSC-certified eucalyptus sourced from rainfall fed South African farms. As with all TENCEL products, the fabric is processed by Austria’s Lenzing.

Finally, the shoes are cobbled in a handful of WRAP-certified factories in South Korea and China.

Green business practices:

Allbirds went Carbon Neutral in 2019, and purchase offsets for the full gamut of their business operations. They ship using 90% recycled cardboard packaging “because every box deserves a second chance”.

Community & charitable giving:

Allbirds partners with Soles4Souls to donate lightly used or returned shoes to communities in need. This not only does a bit of good, but reduces returned-product waste.

Available: Allbirds

3. NISOLO

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Nisolo #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Nisolo
About Nisolo

Nashville’s Nisolo is a Certified B Corp that’s all about ethically-made, intentionally designed, fairly priced, and sustainable products. That includes jewelry, handbags, and oh-so-many shoes (including those ethical and sustainable boots we’ve previously featured). 

While they’ve got an impressive range of sustainable womens shoes, this is also one of the best ethical shoe brands for men with boots, chukkas, sneakers, slip ons, sandals, mules, and oxfords to choose from. 

Nisolo’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

The standard combination of suede and rubber is what you’ll find in most of Nisolo’s shoes. While we anticipate seeing vegan leather in the future from Nisolo, the leather they currently use is a byproduct of the meat industry. 

Many of the tanneries they work with are sustainably certified by the Leather Working Group

Supply chain & labor practices:

In line with their ethical manufacturing mission, Nisolo  has their own Peruvian factory that is third-party audited, employs local artisans, and provides above-fair wages (well above living wages). 

They also provide other further financial support, such as assistance with home loans. Their workers are supported in ways that go beyond fair trade wages, like additional training and classes on finance, nutrition, English, and even yoga.  

Outside of Peru, they work with independent artisans in Kenya and factories in Mexico, all of which adhere to a strict Code of Conduct and pay higher than living wages. 

As you can see, living wages are a big deal for Nisolo. They cofounded the #LowestWageChallenge with ABLE to get other brands to challenge the status quo.

Green business practices:

Leather may not be our favorite material, but designing for durability is where Nisolo really turns green. Their ethical leather sole shoes are meant to be worn for a very long time.

This eco friendly shoe brand also offsets their carbon emissions by supporting the Amazon rainforest based projects.

Community & charitable giving:

As something that equally supports people and the planet, Nisolo’s Shoe Reclamation Program sends returned or damaged goods to the organization Soles4Shoes. 

Available: Nisolo

4. BAABUK

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Baabuk #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Baabuk
About Baabuk

If you’re looking for environmentally friendly shoes that keep you feeling snug as a bug, Baabuk—one of the most popular ethical shoe brands, will do just that.

Baabuk is the family-owned Swiss company that turned a Christmas gift into one of the world’s most ethical slipper companies. 

Once they tried a gifted pair of traditional Russian Valenkis, founders Dan and Galina realized they couldn’t turn back—they had to replicate the shoes that kept their feet warm and cozy even when temperatures hit negative 40°F.

Don’t worry, they have more than just slippers.

The Certified B Corp uses their love of wool to create slippers, accessories, and sneakers alike.

Baabuk’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

New Zealand ethically and sustainably sourced wool provides the foundation for this sustainable shoes brand. The uppers and insoles are felted using just soap and water (no harsh toxic chemicals).

Unlike most wool, felted wool is pressed onto a mold, not woven, knitted, or sewn. This condensed fiber makes a fabric that is strong, hydrophobic, and fray-proof.

This also increases insulation in the winter and cool and refreshing in the summer. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

Baabuk sources their wool from New Zealand (slippers) and Portugal (sneakers). The wool then goes to a workshop in Nepal that employs mostly female artisans who receive wages 25% higher than the national average. 

Green business practices:

The durability and longevity of the shoes they create contributes to Baabuk’s sustainability.

Wool, as a renewable resource can be considered a natural part of the carbon cycle, responsible for sequestering a significant amount of carbon.

And even if wool is not repurposed it’s biodegradable and provides essential soil nutrients as it breaks down.

Available: Baabuk

5. CHRISTY DAWN

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Christy Dawn #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Christy Dawn
About Christy Dawn

Christy Dawn reminds us of our spiritual connection with this Earth:“Our prayer is that our practices and products inspire others to remember and celebrate that we need connection with one another, and with the natural world.” 

Their vintage-inspired collection includes tops, dresses, bottoms, loungewear, ethical maternity clothing and footwear. 

While their shoe selection is small (boots, two sandals, and oxfords – in all colors), they strike a playful yet professional balance, making them one of the best unique ethical shoes around.

Christy Dawn’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

If you’re looking for sustainable leather shoes, this should be your first stop. 

Christy Dawn uses 100% naturally textured and untreated, upcycled deadstock leather. Deadstock means the leather is leftovers from the textile industry and would otherwise end up in landfills.

Supply chain & labor practices:

Christy Dawn respects everyone who plays a part in producing their dresses and other products—from the farmers and weavers in India to the photographers and dressmakers in Los Angeles. 

Slow fashion doesn’t just mean products made with sustainable materials and designed to last; for them it also means encouraging artisans to slow down and enjoy their work.

Green business practices:

With an effort to continue becoming even more sustainable Christy Dawn has established a regenerative cotton farm through their Farm to Closet Initiative. 

They also offset all shipping emissions and offer shoppers the option to make their shipment carbon positive.

Aside from recycling tons of textiles, they’re encouraging customers to do so too. By partnering with the online thrift store ThredUP, you can get credit toward your next pair of Christys just by boxing up and sending off unwanted clothes for resale.

Community & charitable giving:

The brand is also known to host regular fundraisers to support local organizations like providing urban LA communities with healthy food.

Available: Christy Dawn

6. 8000KICKS

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by 8000Kicks #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by 8000Kicks
About 8000Kicks

It’s high time we start talking about cannabis… sneakers, that is! 

8000Kicks is the Portugal-based brand who made the world’s first hemp based shoe. 

Before we brag about some of the world’s most unique environmentally sustainable shoes, we’ve got to provide a quick disclaimer: with just 0.3% THC, these shoes aren’t for smoking and they won’t cause any trouble on your next flight. 

However, if you’re looking for sustainable, non-toxic, and no plastic shoes, these are it. 

8000Kicks’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

We’re big fans of hemp. It’s sustainably-grown without many inputs, is extremely durable, and can still compost in your backyard. 

Not only does hemp mean the Explorer V2 is strong, but also waterproof and is also super easy to clean.

These sustainable vegan shoes use another material too—Bloom algae. 8000Kicks partnered with Bloom to clean up waterways impacted by algal blooms (caused by nutrient leaching and fertilizer runoff). Now that algae is put to work cushioning your feet.  

Good for the soul and soles.

Supply chain & labor practices:

8000Kicks likened their search for ethical manufacturers to Voldemort chasing Harry Potter—which is to say they’ve looked far and wide for innovative people and factories to make their sustainable material shoes.

They source hemp in countries like Romania, China, and France before the shoes are produced in China and Portugal. They are also keen on transparency and told us they’d be happy to share specific details about their factories (watch this space).

We do know their Portuguese factory provides free education and health care to its workers. 

Green business practices:

To reduce shipping emissions, the brand now ships directly from warehouses the US and the UK.

Available: 8000Kicks

7. ALICE + WHITTLES

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Alice + Whittles #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Alice + Whittles
About Alice + Whittles

This Canadian woman – and POC-owned brand wants us to all #BeOutside. 

And when temperatures drop, or there’s snow, rain, or wind to deal with, getting outside and staying outside is so much easier with Alice + Whittles

The brand is proud of creating eco friendly boots for the outdoors, rain and riding, and also sneakers that are good for Planet + People. They accomplish this by ensuring traceable and sustainable products in the footwear industry.

Alice + Whittles’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

Sustainable vegan womens shoes is easy with Alice + Whittles. Their Weekend Boot isn’t just free of animal products but is also made without virgin plastic. 

While not all of their shoes are vegan (i.e. some sneakers made from recycled post-industrial leather), we’d be hard pressed to find a material we’re not happy with. 

When it comes to sustainable shoe making materials, Alice + Whittles gets two toes up for their use of repurposed marine plastic, recycled synthetic wool, recycled rubber, recycled leather (from unlikely sources like car seats), and fairly-traded and sustainably-sourced rubber (certified by the Fair Rubber Association), 

They even use eco-friendly vegan glue and recycled plastic laces.  

Supply chain & labor practices:

To find the best of the best in the manufacturing world, Alice + Whittles travelled the globe. They settled on family-owned factories in Portugal and Sri Lanka.

They’ve also taken some time to connect with the communities in which their factories are located and regularly audit most of their supply chain. 

Green business practices:

Tread lightly knowing these are some of the most responsible sustainable shoes created by a company dedicated to continual improvement. Currently, 90% of their materials are sustainable and traceable but they won’t put their feet up until it’s 100%. 

Community & charitable giving: 

A+W created limited edition designs that benefit specific causes. Their current Well Beings collection directs 100% of profits to protect the Amazons.

Available: Alice + Whittles

8. KYRGIES

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Kyrgies #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Kyrgies
About Kyrgies

Kyrgies, a Virginia-based slipper maker, wants us to all “embark on the great indoors…” though they also make shoes for the outdoors too. 

Drawing inspiration from cultures around the world, Kyrgies wants more people to embrace the “house shoe habit”. But instead of removing your shoes, you’d put ethically made ones on to show respect for the craftsmen.

These shoes are some of the most affordable ethical shoes under $100.

They come in all sizes, from big papa to itty bitty baby so they’re a go-to ethical shoe brand for kids.

Kyrgies’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

Most of their comfortable sustainable shoes are made with felted wool, which is processed with natural soap and dyed with low-impact dyes. 

The Kyrgies Classics are soleless (not for outside use) and therefore 100% wool. These are their most eco friendly shoes.

The Naturals and Tengries, on the other hand, do have natural leather soles to tolerate outdoor conditions (but will last much longer if you keep them out of water). 

Natural leather means it’s processed without chromium and chrome. However, like all leather (even sustainably tanned leather) it’s not as readily biodegradable as other natural materials and comes from an unknown source.

The Tengries also contain a small amount of elastane

Supply chain & labor practices:

Kyrgies sources their wool from free range sheep in Kyrgyzstan, where it’s also felted and carded in a factory that respects and utilizes traditional craftsmanship.

Kyrgies is committed to providing gainful employment opportunities to people in communities where options are few, thus their craftspeople are mostly women.

We don’t know where the leather comes from, so we will be reaching out to confirm.

Green business practices:

This brand ensures “not one gram of wool is wasted.” Any wool that doesn’t make it into their slippers is reprocessed and used for residential insulation.

Kyrgies offsets their entire carbon emissions by supporting renewable energy or carbon removal projects. Their goal is to become Carbon Neutral Certified.

Community & charitable giving:

The brand is also a member of 1% for the Planet and regularly contributes to One Tree Planted to support global reforestation.

Available: Kyrgies

9. ORIGINAL CORK SHOP

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Original Cork Shop #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Original Cork Shop
About Original Cork Shop

The story behind Original Cork Shop is about a boy’s search for eco-friendly flip flops and one of the world’s most sustainable materials: cork.

This family-owned Portuguese brand currently makes the only fully compostable flip flops. 

Here’s why they’re putting one flip-flopped foot forward:

“We don’t want to protect the environment –  we want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting.” 

Original Cork Shop’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

As sustainable and plastic free shoes, these flip flops are made from 100% cork, down to the grippy rubber cork sole. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

The majority of cork oak trees in the world are located in Portugal, so all sourcing and processing happens there.

We’re pretty flipping excited that they prioritize localized supply chains, fair trade manufacturing, and cruelty-free vegan practices.

Available: Etsy

10. CHILOTE

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Chilote #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Chilote
About Chilote

The most ethical shoe brands are surely those without the need for a factory.

This is where certified B Corp, Chilote comes in. 

Their wool slippers are “crafted SLOW through a network of independent artisan women in Patagonia.” 

We bet you can’t look at a picture of their house shoes without wiggling your toes. And we imagine these ethical winter shoes are like combining the world’s softest blanket with a puffy white cloud.

Chilote’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

The durable house shoes are made with locally-sourced raw sheep wool that’s combined with organic vegetable tanned saddle leather. 

They have another slipper made with a material you’ve probably never heard of: salmon leather. It’s been upcycled from the fishing industry and is combined with sheep wool—both of which are locally-sourced.

They also have slippers made from just 100% raw Patagonian wool. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

Confidence, self-esteem, and independence are just a few of the ways the women artisans benefit from employment with Chilote. They also receive wages that are 40% higher than the local average for spending time doing what they know and love: knitting.

Green business practices:

Because locally-sourced materials are inherently more eco-friendly, Chilote’s carbon footprint is minimal. Thanks to a collaboration with EcoSphere to support Peruvian forests, these social and environmental ethical shoes are Climate +.

Available: Chilote

11. DARZAH

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Darzah #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Nicolas Iparraguirre for Darzah
About Darzah

Darzah is Arabic for “stitch” because this brand specializes in Palestinian “tatreez” embroidery—a traditional art farm passed down from mother to daughter.

Working with women artisans in the West Bank, 100% of Darzah’s products are handcrafted and fulfill two missions:

  1. To create economic opportunities for refugee and low-income women artisans
  2. To celebrate tatreez embroidery and the Palestinian cultural heritage

They make this possible through some of the most beautiful shoes and handbags we’ve seen. Their shoe stock includes boots, mules, ethical formal black shoes, flats, oxfords, sandals, heels, and even wedding shoes. 

Darzah’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

Leather insoles and linings are combined with a leather and natural rubber outsole in all shoes. We’re waiting to hear back from the brand about how the leather is tanned and processed.

Supply chain & labor practices:

Darzah sources their leather from a family-run leather manufacturer and keeps everything super local—every step of their supply chain is located in Palestine. 

Darzah is certified by the Fair Trade Federation and they are working hard to reduce the West Bank unemployment rates for young women. As a not for profit brand, all revenue is redirected toward training and employment programs in this area.

They employ 6 full-time artisans and have 22 part-time artisans, some of whom are refugees. 

Green business practices:

Darzah is one of more than 100 different ethical brands who sell their products on one of our favorite eco friendly alternatives to Amazon—Made Trade. The woman-owned company is certified Carbon Neutral and they offset the emissions associated with returns and shipping. 

Community & charitable giving:

Darzah is part of Child’s Cup Full, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit social enterprise that provides reliable work opportunities to Palestinian women.  

The Made Trade platform is also a member of 1% for the Planet, donating a portion of their profits to Fibershed, a regenerative textile organization.

Available: Made Trade | Darzah

12. NAE

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by NAE #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by NAE
About NAE

NAE stands for No Animal Exploitation and if you’re looking for ethical vegan shoes, this is a good place to start. 

This Portugal-based and PETA-approved footwear company has a beautiful selection of sandals, slides, wedges, sneakers, boots, and pumps (and some handbags to match). 

Despite the cute styles, they are incredibly comfortable and functional. We personally tried the NOAH recycled PET combat boot and it passed the standing-for-8-hours test, no issues.

In addition to protecting animals with their vegan-friendly footwear, NAE is committed to protecting the environment “step-by-step.”

NAE’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

NAE makes it easy to shop for vegan shoes sustainably by letting you shop by material.

As one of the best ethical vegan shoe brands here’s what you might be stomping around in: Piñatex (vegan leather made from pineapple leaves blended with PLA), cork, recycled PET, organic cotton, and vegan leather (a microfiber mix of cotton, polyester and nylon, recycled whenever possible). 

These main outer materials are combined with things like OEKO-TEX certified polyurethane lining, recycled polyester laces, natural cork footbeds, and recycled car tires. 

Many of the plastic-based materials (i.e. PU microfiber) are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified to be free of toxic chemicals. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

NAE only works with European-certified factories in Portugal that demonstrate respect for their employees and use practices that don’t damage the environment.

Green business practices:

NAE uses a carbon-neutral manufacturing process and minimizes their chemical and water consumption.

Inclusivity:

Inclusivity generally isn’t a big deal when it comes to footwear, but NAE actually has a range of unisex shoes. Gender neutral fashion is the future. 

Community & charitable giving:

In the past, this brand has (not surprisingly) collaborated with PETA to make a special line of boots which with each sale donated  $5.

They also partner with the ReMove Project, which is how they source the ocean plastic waste that gets turned into recycled PET.

Available: NAE

13. RAWGANIQUE

Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by Rawganique #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle
Image by Rawganique
About Rawganique

Two off-grid homesteaders took eco-friendly living to the next level with their ethical vegan shoes

As the name suggests, Rawganique is a purveyor of all things raw, organic, and unique.

In addition to eco-friendly rugs, sustainable gloves, earth-friendly curtains, and so much more, Rawganique is a great place to get ethical shoes online—from ethical vegan mens shoes (oxfords and sports shoes) to women’s shoes (sandals, ballet flats, and boots). 

Rawganique’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials:

Rawganique’s commitment to their customers and the planet means they use natural materials like organic cotton, linen, and hemp—and steer clear of toxic dyes, chemicals, and plastics. That means their shoes are 100% biodegradable.

Their sustainable organic shoes are no exception made largely with organic hemp lined with organic cotton fleece or linen, paired with a natural rubber sole. 

All hemp shoes come with a 100% natural wax to keep them waterproof. Low-impact dyes are used (if the shoes are dyed at all).

Supply chain & labor practices:

Rawganique sources their unsubsidized and sustainably-grown raw organic materials from a single atelier in Europe. Only a small percentage of products are made or finished in Canada or the US.

They don’t use chemicals, advertising, or sweatshop labor.  

Green business practices:

Rawganique makes some of the most sustainable shoes because they only use natural materials and prohibit harmful substances like formaldehyde, latex, dioxin, PVC, plastic, VOCs, and other harsh chemicals.

Available: Amazon | Rawganique

WHY SHOE COMPANIES & CONSUMERS NEED TO (SUSTAINABLY) STEP UP

So why is it so important to opt for socially responsible sustainable shoes?  

Shoes are something we don’t buy all that often (at least compared to beauty products and food). But consider this:

The sneaker industry alone produces 23 billion pairs every year, over 300 million pairs of which are thrown away in that same time span. Less than 5% of these shoes are recycled, meaning these petroleum-based wearables land up in the…landfill.

The footwear industry alone is responsible for 700 million tons of CO2 emissions (or about 30 pounds per shoe manufactured). All in all, that’s about 30% of the fashion industry’s total impact.

Leather and (Un)Sustainability

Leather is the worst offender.

We know not every ethical shoe brand on this list is leather-free, but traditionally, leather is pretty UNsustainable and UNethical. It uses an animal byproduct, sometimes killing animals purely for their hides (over 1 billion animals per year).

And regardless of sourcing, the tanning process alone utilizes hundreds of heavy metals and chemicals (like formaldehyde), which puts both the wearer and tannery workers at health risk.

That’s not to say that sustainable leather shoes are impossible. In fact, a few brands on our list show that leather can, in limited scenarios be considered sustainable, provided it is sourced as a byproduct and thus considered cruelty-free (i.e. no animal was killed specifically for its hide).  

Our personal hierarchy of leather sustainability goes like this:

  1. Upcycled/recycled leather: The materials already exist, so using them prevents further landfill waste;
  2. Naturally sun dyed leather: No chemicals or natural additives used to process the leather.
  3. Vegetable-dyed leather: Goes through the whole tanning process sans toxic chemicals. Instead, it relies on things like bark and other plants to preserve and protect the leather. 
  4. Chrome-free leather: The last and least sustainable. While this still typically involves chemicals, it means fewer heavy metals, though we’d still avoid this.

HOW WE FOUND THE BEST ETHICAL SHOE BRANDS

So, how did we determine which shoe brands were ethical enough to make the cut?

Our sustainable and ethical fashion criteria, of course. If you haven’t already had a peruse, we’ll summarize the four major social and environmental ethical shoe specs that we scrutinize:

Materials:

A garment’s biggest impact comes from material (because it impacts the environment at sourcing, production, and end-of-life levels) so this is a priority. We’ll dive deeper into sustainable shoe materials below.

Supply chain & labor practices:

This refers to the human rights side of the industry. Ethical companies need to provide transparency and traceability of all entities responsible for making their shoes. This enables us to be sure that artisans are getting paid fairly and are working in safe, ethical environments.  

Because of doubts cast by greenwashing, we look to third-party auditors and certifications, like B-Corp and Fair Trade, among many others.

Green business practices:

Other ways a company takes into account their environmental impact outside of material choice. This includes carbon offsetting, product recycling programs, low waste shipping, and packaging materials, use renewable and resource conservative production methods, and create lasting designs. 

Charitable endeavors:

A brand doesn’t need to be a non-profit to think about more than bolstering their own bank accounts. We love to see companies that work to make the world a better place by contributing either time or funding to social and environmental causes. 

The Most Sustainable Materials for Shoes

Fabric is the most important consideration because it has the largest bearing on a garment’s impact, as well as the safety of manufacturing and material sourcing conditions.  

For example, organic cotton not only means the shoe is non-toxic and compostable, but also that the cotton growers aren’t exposed to chemical pesticides.

The most sustainable shoes are those that use totally organic materials, like natural rubber soles and uppers/liners made from jute, hemp, or bamboo. This means at the end of life, they are compostable.

After organic materials come recycled synthetics (like recycled PET and Econyl, made from plastic bottles and harvested ocean plastics) and deadstock (made from recycled shoes or post-production leftovers). 

While not biodegradable, they are reducing waste of materials already in existence.

Materials with footwear get complicated because shoes contain so many different components:

  • Uppers: This is the big one and where we most get the opportunity to use those organic and recycled synthetic fabrics mentioned above. This is also where we’re seeing so many new fabric innovations, like vegan leather made of apples and fabric woven from discarded pineapple leaves (called Piñatex).
  • Liners: Organic cotton is again the best option, but many companies are still using synthetic microfibers for their moisture-wicking abilities.  If that’s the case, try to make sure it’s recycled. 
  • Laces: Organic cotton sans plastic tip covers, ideally. OR recycled materials.
  • Insoles: The most sustainable options here are cork (which is antimicrobial and very cushioning, thus being super good for your feet) are BLOOM foam made of recycled algae.
  • Midsoles: Still the most unsustainable part of many shoes, particularly sneakers and other athletic footwear. Some companies are at least now blending this virgin EVA with recycled EVA. There’s no perfect solution to this one yet, but we are at least making progress.
  • Outsoles: For sustainable sole materials for shoes, we need look no further than natural rubber, which is biodegradable, unlike chemical-based imitations. It’s also a renewable resource harvested by harmlessly tapping the natural latex of rubber trees.

We also want to ensure we’re buying non-toxic shoes, or those that are processed without the use of many chemicals. Certifications like those by WRAP and OEKO-Tex 100 are here to help.


FINAL THOUGHTS ON SUSTAINABLE SHOE BRANDS

As one of the most polluting industries in the world, fashion needs a major reform.

Which is exactly why our fashion choices have an enormous impact. So, what better place to start making those reforms than from the ground up (i.e. with a pair of sustainable ethical shoes!)?

There’s nothing wrong with loving some shoe shopping therapy, as long as we’re still loving the earth while we do so.

Now, over to you. What is your favorite ethical shoe brand? Help us promote those brands who are changing the ethical shoe game from the inside. 


Living sustainably means taking it one step at a time, literally. But in a world where traditional footwear is anything but, you may be wondering, which are the ethical shoe brands? Image by NAE #ethicalshoebrands #sustainableshoebrands #sustainablejungle

Leave a comment

×

Would you like to hear from us?

Enter your email address to receive our newsletter with new posts about sustainable living, fashion, zero waste, beauty and more.