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.
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 3 retailers in Ireland, China Blue in Dublin, Benneil in Wexford, Walk in Cork.
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!
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)
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.
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