I find buying sustainable, ethical shoes in Ireland an absolute nightmare. It seems that either you go for vegan plastic or biodegradable leather. I’ve know canvas shoes are in vogue at the moment and I’d happily chance a pair of canvas trainers in showery Ireland but not a pair of canvas pumps – too risky! To date I’ve limited myself to trying to buy the most durable shoes I can find in an effort to buy less shoes overall but this blog post has introduced me to some really stunning options that I’m keen to road test in the future. I would prefer though, to buy.
I’ve debated whether to include vegan shoes and brands in this post because they typically use plastic in their uppers. I don’t have an issue with plastic being used where it will last a long time but in my experience plastic uppers aren’t long-lasting, which, in my opinion, makes them unsustainable. That said, I do feature leather which for a lot of people is unethical. I include it because it’s long lasting and from what I’ve read leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and not the other way around. But all things considered I prefer to prefer to give people as much information as possible so that they can chose what suits their values best and so I’ve included both in this blog. To find out a bit more about the materials that shoe companies use check out my post on Sustainable Ethical Fibres and my Pros and Cons of Sustainable Materials on my post Sustainable Shopping blog post.
In 2010, a sneaker from German company Ethletic (see above) became the first sneaker on the market to be certified with the Fairtrade quality seal for organic cotton. The company uses Ethletic natural latex milk, extracted by hand for both shoe soles and as glue. The natural rubber is from Sri Lanka, which is the first place in the world with FSC certified rubber plantations, an international certification system for sustainable forestry methods. As well as rubber being biodegradable, the company also claims that according to Indian researchers, one hectare of rubber tree plantations absorbs seven times more carbon dioxide than a hectare of rainforest. The company say that they regular visit smallholders and their plantations, from which they get our natural resources and they pay an additional €0.50 per reaped rubber. The company says it only works with organic cotton that has been sourced from FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International) certified smallholder plantations in India. The cotton doesn’t appear to be certified as being organic, only fairtrade, but on their website the company states that the name of the smallholder community from which their cotton originates is Chetna Organic. The company also claims that employees in their factories are given a decent minimum wage, adequate workplace safety and a voice in their workplaces and by promoting their own community projects. The company also voluntarily donates 15% of the value of every invoice to an Employee Welfare Society. At present, these funds are being used to finance health insurance policies, doctor visits, hospital stays, school materials for children and clean drinking water facilities – all decided by the employees themselves. You can buy them from their online store but a little birdie told me that they’re often cheaper on Ethical Superstore
Adidas are now offering UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley runners made from a mix of Ocean PlasticTM, created from plastic waste retrieved by Parley coastal interception and clean-up operations in the Maldives (95%), and recycled polyester (5%); with each pair reusing eleven plastic bottles. The shoes laces, heel cap base material, heel webbing, heel lining and the sock-liner cover are also made with recycled materials. The shoes aren’t cheap at €199,95 but seem to have received rave reviews from customers. If €200 is too rich for your blood they’ve a parlay flip-flop made from cork and recycled plastic for a more modest €25 and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid football t-shirts, also made from plastic retrieved from the oceans for €70 – €100.
Spanish company El Naturalista create vegan shoes made from fabric, mostly microfibers and cotton and chrome-free leather shoes. Their factories are in two locations: La Rioja in Spain and Tangier in Morocco. Their leathers come from recognized European producers and tanneries always observing the European regulations. As part of an European Eco-Innovation project Naturalista supplies shoes to a company that crushes and separates their components for reuse in different fields of work: creating paving, children’s playgrounds, technical parts for speed reduction devices, etc. Also they claim that all of their production centres have implemented initiatives aimed at the commitment to counteracting the effects of climate change, focused on energy savings, rationalized water use and improved quality, and the efficient use of resources and waste management. Their shoes are sold from China Blue in Dublin 2.
Po Zu is a UK brand of ethical footwear who claim that all our their materials come from naturally renewable sources and are responsibly harvested. They contain no pesticides, bleaches or toxic dyes and are locally sourced wherever possible. They use organic cotton, natural latex, FSC certified timber, cork, wool, coconut husk and chromium-free leather. They have also recently introduced a vegan, solvent-free eco microfibre. All of their shoes are made in a small factory near to the historic town of Guimaraes in Portugal. The factory employs 70 local workers, has a strict non-toxic policy and recycle nearly all their waste products, including fabric off-cuts and water. The company ships their shoes to European destinations by land and to other continents, whenever possible, by sea, saving approximately 15 tons of C02 a year compared to airfreight. The company donates a minimum of 3% of their sales income to four environmental charities and provide internships to ethical designers, work with a range of NGOs to raise environmental awareness, and help to promote sustainable lifestyles. The company abides by the Ethical Trading Initiative Code of Practice and are certified by the Ethical Company Organisation as a company that upholds human rights and animal welfare, and works to protect the environment. They also see an edible shoe cream made from coconut oil!
Green Shoes are handmade in Devon and are repairable so last for many more years than mass produced footwear that just end up in landfill. They also offer a range of vegan shoes.
Ottowin handmake select pieces of footwear in Bristol, UK from industry waste leather hand picked by them from U.K. suppliers. Some of the components are made from natural vegetable tanned leather. Each pair of shoes is made to order by one person and the lead in time is 2-3 weeks.
Veja are a Portuguese company that offers shoes made from low-chrome leather, organic cotton, recycled rubber and wild rubber. They also sell a line of vegan shoes. According to the company’s website their cotton chain complies with the organic standards but is globally involved into a more ambitious scheme: agro-ecology, i.e. does not have organic cotton certification. Similarly the company began the accreditation process for Fairtrade status 8 years ago but have yet to attain it. It appears that all of their shoes are made in Brazil so buying directly from the company may make them a less sustainable option. That said they do have a few stores around Europe and England so next time you’re on your holliers you could stock up!
Spanish company Natural World offer very reasonably priced shoes for men, women and children from, according to their website, 100% ecological materials: cotton, natural rubber and recycled cardboard for the boxes. Their website states that they make their shoes in Spain, do not use any material detrimental to health and no underage workforce. Their cotton comes from Spain and the company holds a ‘Made in Green’ certification, which confirms that their production process respects the environment. The natural rubber soles are joined onto the cotton using heat and pressure meaning that no glue or chemicals are required. Their shoes are machine washable and the company offers a free return service.
Bionat is a French company offering top-quality shoes that are said to be very long lasting. Their line of vegan shoes made from hemp and organic cotton, while their leather shoes are made with a tanning process that doesn’t require any heavy metal, chrome or nickel, making their shoes good for those sensitive to these chemicals. The sole on all of their shoes is 100% hevea milk (natural latex). All of the shoes come with a one-year warranty and can be resoled for €65 by simply dropping the shoes into one of their shops or posting them back to the company in Alsace, France. Their shoes are an investment so it might be worth keeping an eye out for their sales. (Thanks to Marion for the info on this company)
Swedish Hasbeens are retro-styled and handmade in the old traditional way in small factories that have made shoes for decades. They are made to last with natural grain leather and soles made from a single piece of alder or lime tree.
Salt-water Sandals are made with plaited leather uppers and stitched rubber soles. They come with rust proof buckles are suitable for wearing in water. The company are partners and avid supporters of The Marine Conservation Society and their packaging is now completely plastic free. In addition, 10% of all sales from their Turquoise sandals go to the MCS on a permanent basis.
Vivobarefoot in the UK are not a traditional shoe company. They don’t do heels or stiff soles believing that less or more and so provide shoes that have ultra-thin soles. They also dream of a shoe that will last a lifetime and so offer a repair service for their range of Handcut shoes. They also sell shoes made from recycled PET bottles with each pair of shoe in this range using up 17 bottles.
OFKT designs and manufactures classic fashion footwear in Yorkshire using offcuts of leather to make the uppers of the shoes. The dustbag, and the info label are made using wastage materials from SCRAP, Centre of Creative Reuse, Play and Learning: a social enterprise based in Leeds, focused on helping the environment by reusing waste materials from businesses as resources for art and play and the shoebox is recycled too!
Toms are a very well know brand of shoe that started with the concept of donating one pair of shoes to children in poor countries every time they sold a pair. The company has now extended it’s philanthropy and supports a range of charities across the globe. They state that their shoes are made from sustainable and vegan materials including natural hemp, organic cotton, and/or recycled polyester. Also all of their shoe boxes are made from 80% recycled post-consumer waste and are printed with soy ink. Their shoes are made in China, Ethiopia and Argentina. On an annual basis, the company requires their direct suppliers to certify that the materials incorporated into their products are procured in accordance with all applicable laws in the countries they do business in, including laws regarding slavery and human trafficking. They also clearly define appropriate business practices for their employees and hold them accountable for complying with our policies, including the prevention of slavery and human trafficking within our supply chain. Currently, they claim to be active members of Environmental and Social Responsibility Committees of the AAFA (American Apparel and Footwear Association). Even though this is an American brand that manufacturers outside of Europe I’m including them because they sell through retailers in Ireland, namely Schuh and Kurt Geiger. I’ve also seen them on sale in TX Maxx on occasion.
Matt and Nat are a Candanian based vegan Shoe and Accessory company with distribution centres in Europe. The linings inside all of their bags are made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles and they state that they use sustainable cork and rubber for their shoes. They do use plastic in their products including, PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). According to them PU is less harmful for the environment than PVC and they make a point to use it whenever possible.
Loints of Holland started in a shed in 1918 and their shoes are still handmade in their own factory. They offer shoes that are made to last and most of their designs require no lining, which saves leather, glue and labour. The tanneries that they work with do not use Benzidine or PCP, and have extensive water treatment plants, and the manufacturers of their PU-outsoles do not use freon.
According to the Swedish company Ten Point their shoes are designed and made by hand in Europe, using sustainable production methods and fair business practices. Unfortunately no independent verification of this claim is available to view on their website.
Neosens shoes are built to last in their factory in Spain and their website explains how this is achieved with various design and construction features. The use leather and wood in their shoes, with a leather liner.
UK based Swedish Clogs make clogs from swedish alder and Birch wood, natural grain leather, vegetable dyed leathers, nubuck and suede. Each pair is handmade by craftsmen in the forests in Southern Sweden.
Ecoalf is a Spanish brand for men and women that uses recycled nylon (from fishing nets) to make sneakers and recycled tyres to make flip flops. Through it’s foundation Ecoalf are involved in a project to clean our oceans of waste called Upcycling the Oceans
Jutelaune shoes are handmade in Spain by local artisans using working methods and traditional materials like canvas, leather, jute and rubber.
Nae is a Portuguese vegan shoe company using OEKO-TEX certified microfibre, cork, post-consumer pineapple leaf fibre, recycled airbags, recycled PET bottles, and recycled tyres to make it’s shoes
Funky Kalakar in the UK offer vegan shoes ethically made from sustainable/ upcycled materials. The soles on their Brelite collection are made from scrap tyres and the upper of the shoes are made of handwoven cotton fabric which is handwoven to give a beautiful texture. Their Swarang collection is made with vegetable dyed cotton. Irish online retailer Ethical Souls sells the Funky Kalakar range of shoes
Wills Vegan Shoes in the UK sell carbon neutral shoes that are ethically made in Italy under European Union employment, discrimination and health & safety law.. Their vegan leather is created with bio oil sourced from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe. The rest of their products are created with suedes made in Italy and Spain that meet Oeko Tex 100 and REACH regulations. Most of their outsoles are made from rubber and their insoles have been made in Spain with recycled rubber. Their online store operates a plastic free Carbon Neutral supply chain using sustainable materials. They do this by offsetting their carbon footprint with investments in renewable energy projects. They do not use plastic bags or plastic packaging and all the materials in their deliveries are said to be environmentally friendly, sustainable and can be recycled.
Brendan Jennings makes shoes in West Cork. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a website but his contact details are listed on the Directory of Crafts People
Online Retailers that sell Footwear
- Spirit of Nature stocks Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- The Natural Collection stocks Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- Frank and Faith stock shoes made by Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- The Ethical Superstore stocks shoes made by Ethletics, Komodo and Rider.
- In addition to a huge range of ‘ethical’ clothing brands, Fashion Conscience has their own range (FC select) of vegan shoes made from plastic.
- Gather&See offers ethical shoe brands Jutelaune, OFKT and Veja.
- FAAM is an online retail store that stocks the following shoe brands; Kitty Clogs, Ecolaf, Vega, Ten Points, El Naturalista, Neosens, Art
- Ethical Market is an online marketplace for small makers of ethical goods, including footwear.
- Green UK are an online retailer sells Ethletics and Rider shoes.
- Peryvan Vegan sell a range of vegan shoes and accessories.
Rankabrand is a very useful website that, as the name suggests, ranks brands based on their sustainability.