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Shoe brands are getting the memo: Environmental consciousness matters.
Sustainability has become something of a buzzword in the fashion space in recent years, with millennials and Generation Zers, in particular, choosing to shop brands with eco-friendly bents — and in some cases, even ponying up extra cash to support environmentally conscious labels. In the past few years, shoe brands are coming up with new ways to reduce their carbon footprint and utilize new sustainably sourced materials.
In some cases, brands like Allbirds and Rothy’s have made sustainability their core ethos, while others — industry heavyweight Adidas is one example — have recently taken aggressive steps to move environmental protection higher on their list of priorities.
Plant and food waste, such as corn, apple and grape skins, previously used in the auto and interiors industry are becoming popular alternatives to leather, especially in the luxury footwear sphere. Prota Fiori, an emerging label that crafts its shoes out of food scraps, is using sustainability as a selling point to target luxury consumers looking to be more conscious consumers.
Other brands like Allen Edmonds encourage customers to send their shoes back to their upstate N.Y. factory, giving a pair a second and even third life rather than ending up in a landfill.
As we move forward into the new decade, there’s no doubt that sustainable elements will become another pillar in the fashion and footwear world. The burgeoning category already has created a new market fit for both popular brands and newcomers to make their mark on the industry.
Ahead of Earth Day (which falls on April 22 this year), read on to learn about what brands are tapping into the eco-conscious business model.
Adidas is tackling society’s plastic waste problem by pledging that more than half of the polyester used in its products will come from recycled plastic waste. The athletic retail giant plans to only use recycled polyester by 2024. The brand is using plastic waste collected from beaches and coastal regions to craft a round of their sneakers. Adidas has also continued to work on the development of its first fully recyclable running shoe, the Futurecraft Loop. The sneaker, which is fused together without the need for glue is expected to launch in 2021.
Allbirds started in 2016 with a direct-to-consumer model, and has favor among Silicon Valley techies and A-list celebrities alike, winning FN’s prestigious Brand of the Year honor in 2018. Allbirds has emphasized eco-consciousness since the beginning, with the goal of being the lowest carbon emitter, on a per-pair basis, in the shoe industry. The Silicon Valley darling makes its socks and shoes out of eco-friendly materials such as wool and eucalyptus tree.
Allen Edmonds shoes are recraftable, allowing them to last a lifetime. Customers can send their pair back to the Allen Edmonds factory in Port Washington, N.Y. to have them refurbished. According to the brand, the recrafting process decreases the impact on landfills, giving more than 70,000 pairs a second or third chance each year.
A Blowfish 4Earth style.
Cariuma’s sneakers are made of a bamboo knit upper, with a durable sugarcane outsole, a recyclable cork and mamona oil insole and recycled plastic bottle lining, lacing and logo labels. Throughout its production and shipping processes, the Brazilian label is 100% carbon neutral. In addition to reducing its own carbon emissions, the brand has teamed up with NativeEnergy to aid conservation efforts in the Amazonian rainforest.
Everlane has made a few sustainable sneaker models over the year. Its Tread by Everlane shoes used 9.5 recycled plastic bottles. The most recent sustainable model from the brand is The Forever Sneaker. The shoe is made from 50% Recycled cotton canvas and has a natural rubber outsole. Once worn out, the washable sneaker can be sent back to Everlane and the brand will recycle the shoes.
Kane launched in 2021 with an eco-friendly recovery slide made to support feet before and after workouts. Designed in part by foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Daniel Geller, the Revive style uses the brand’s proprietary BounceBackTM foam derived from sustainably harvested Brazilian sugarcane byproduct (which is also said to be carbon-negative). According to the brand, the shoe is composed of over 56% sugarcane and also features a tug string at the back that’s constructed from recycled plastic.
Following a pre-launch in February on Kickstarter.com, pairs of the Kane Revive will be available direct-to-consumer via Kanefootwear.com in June. In honor of Earth Day this year, the brand has also launched a green-colored version of its Revive slip-on, which is currently available for pre-order on Kickstarter.com.
K-Swiss launched its Surf’ N Turf Heritage CC model ahead of Earth Day last year. The sneaker is constructed from recycled canvas and stitching, with raw cotton laces and an outsole made from reground rubber. The shoe was made in a process that uses less water and utilizes recycled materials, than their average sneaker. The shoe is available to shop on Kswiss.com and costs $60.
Kenneth Cole has readdressed components of a few of their popular shoe styles to make them more sustainable through infusing rubber grindings, utilizing 100% recycled laces and incorporating overstock materials. The shoes are sold exclusively at Kennethcole.com.
Koio is upping its sustainability efforts. Found in its fall ’20 collection and onwards, the made-in-Italy sneaker brand now offers a proprietary “ReCycled” outsole, made of 68% pre-consumer recycled materials, and “Recycled” midsole, composed of 30% pre-consumer recycled EVA. And from its spring ’21 collection onwards, Koio has pledged to use planet-friendly leathers certified by the Leather Working Group (LWG) in all of its pairs. Furthermore, the brand remains committed to producing durable styles and hosts an initiative called Koio Vintage, a collection of lightly worn Koio sneakers available for reduced prices at Koio.com that may otherwise end up in landfills.
On a mission to offer women comfortable, stylish and sustainable heels and sandals, Los Angeles-based footwear brand Ma’am Shoes produces all of its pairs in a local L.A. factory to limit carbon emissions from international freight shipping. The brand also stands by healthy conditions and fair wages for its manufacturing employees, which are sourced locally. What’s more, the label uses environmentally responsible packaging with recyclable shoe boxes that are strong enough to be shipped on their own to reduce unnecessary waste.
Nomadic State of Mind
Using fair trade and ethical practices, the handmade footwear brand has its sandals created in a small community in Nicaragua. Its shoes — made from recycled materials such as hemp, rope and upcycled sails — come in a variety of colors, from earthy camel hues to summer-ready yellows. In addition to Nomadic State of Mind’s website, you can find the shoes on Amazon and Farfetch.
Each pair of Nothing New shoes is composed of the equivalent of 5.6 plastic water bottles, with an average of over 160 gallons of water saved for each pair in comparison to the standard canvas sneaker. The brand’s outsoles are developed out of recycled rubber and cork in addition to virgin natural rubber and use stitches rather than vulcanization to eliminate the negative byproducts of chemical-heavy glue and sulfur emissions. High-top and low-top sneakers for men and women are available to shop on the brand’s site, with prices ranging from $95 to $108.
Emerging luxury brands like O2 Monde are marrying sustainability and craft as a selling point for high-end shoes. Founded by design veteran Mirco Scoccia, the sustainable shoe brand released its first models in 2021 ranging from $268-$398. Made from textiles such as Freska, a mixture of corn and cereal, Pinatex, from pineapple and Vitigna, a leather-like material derived from grape skins, the line of women’s shoes ranges from chic heels to comfortable flats and sneakers. Each model is crafted in Italy and was named after a powerful woman who has made a positive environmental impact, including The Greta, a slip-on inspired by youth climate activist, Greta Thunberg.
Crafted of recycled plastic bottles, Psudo sneakers are made in a Milwaukee, Wisc. factory powered by solar. The lacing and stitching on the shoes is actually made from printed graphics as a waste-saving measure, with the shoes coming in 100% recyclable packaging. Psudo’s men’s and women’s shoes come in at $98. The label offers several styles to choose from, including the Tech, the Lacer and the Court, all available on its website.
Prota Fiori makes its elegant shoes out of food waste. Founder Jennifer Stucko sources all her materials and crafts her shoes in Italy, where factories are willing to innovate with materials such as apple, pineapple and grape skins. Additionally, the first 100 customers of Prota Fiori will also get a fruit tree planted in their name on behalf of the brand in its garden in Italy. The brand has partnered with Treedom in an effort to offset carbon emissions made by the fashion and footwear industry.
Rag & Co.
In addition to using ethically sourced animal leathers, Rag & Co. includes biodegradable materials such as cotton yarns and canvas in its handmade footwear styles for women. Underfoot, each pair is made of a reusable, processed rubber and features heels composed of natural wood in lieu of manmade materials. The styles are also packaged inside a recyclable cotton bag and box featuring limited use of dyes. According to the brand’s website, Rag & Co. is also committed to reducing waste by not purchasing in excess from its suppliers. Its pairs are available on both ragnco.com and dsw.com.
The direct-to-consumer brand first introduced its eco-friendly flats in 2015. Made out of discarded plastic water bottles and using a special 3D knitting process, the sustainable shoes have since garnered a loyal following through word of mouth, winning even Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s seal of approval. Pairs costs between $125 and $165 on Rothys.com. The company also owns and operates a factory in Dongguan, China and has saved over 52.9 million plastic water bottles since its beginning.
The brand is going green with a series of shoes made of eco-friendly materials, starting with uppers made of 100% recycled plastic bottles. Footbeds are made of sustainable cork, while the insoles and outsoles are a plant-based foam made from algae. With every pair of Saola Shoes purchased, the brand gives back 1% of proceeds to the Mwalua Wildlife Trust, with funds helping to provide sustainable water systems to wildlife communities, as well as to promote human-wildlife coexistence.
Luxury shoe label Seecaas uses recycled plastic in the production of its flats. Additionally, the label has a socially conscious bent, with a portion of proceeds from each sale going to the Seecaas Hope for Adoption Foundation.
The Wolverine World Wide Inc.-owned brand’s Bionic shoes uses yarn spun from plastic recovered from marine and coastal environments. Each pair of shoes is woven from, on average, five plastics bottles that have been recycled. The initiative is a partnership with the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has the goal of ensuring fishable, drinkable, swimmable water, and Bionic, a material engineering company that has developed a thread that upcycles ocean plastic. Men’s, women’s and children’s Bionic styles are available to shop on the Sperry website, with all silhouettes priced at $100 or less.
For Earth Day 2020, Stuart Weitzman has unveiled the Elemental Espadrilles collection, with product handcrafted by Artisans in Spain. Styles cost between $295 and $395 and come with a reusable canvas tote bag, and the shoes are packaged in a recyclable shoe box crafted from 100% recycled material. The capsule is available exclusively on Stuartweitzman.com and in SW boutiques.
Sylven New York
Born on Earth Day, founder Casey Dworkin, the founder of Sylven New York, is passionate about addressing fashion’s environmental impact through her footwear brand. In addition to crafting shoes in Italy made from sustainably sourced materials such as apple skins and vegetable-dyed leathers, she continues to find ways to tackle other ways a footwear brand can generate waste. In 2020 she launched a dustbag drive with Masks for Humanity, where she encouraged customers to send old shoe dust bags which then would be crafted into face masks. She also launched an initiative in 2020 called the ReBoot, which allows shoppers to buy gently worn and unreleased models at a discounted price. The ReBoot portal can be found on sylvennewyork.com for $225-$325.
Teva is now making all of the straps for its sandals and other footwear using recycled plastic. Over the course of the year, this will equate to over 9 million plastic bottles being kept out of landfills.
The VF Corp.-owned label, which took home the Sustainability Leadership Award during the 2020 Footwear News Achievement Awards, uses nearly 500,000 pounds of recycled rubber in its shoes each year and has given the equivalent of 345 million plastic bottles a new life through use in its shoes and backpacks. Timberland unveiled its new sustainability strategy in September 2020, which included partnerships with regenerative farms. The brand is working to build a regenerative leather supply chain throughout the U.S., as well as in Australia and Brazil. Earlier in 2020, Timberland entered a partnership with the Savory Institute to fund research into regenerative farming practices, including ways to improve rubber, cotton, wool and sugarcane supply chains. You can shop for sustainable styles on Timberland.com.
A certified B Corp, Toms is measuring its carbon footprint with the aim of improving each year. The label hopes to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 and uses packaging made from at least 80% recycled material. Additionally, the footwear brand has its Earthwise collection, which features sustainably made products.
Vans highlights the preservation of the environment with its world map capsule collection. The skatewear brand’s “Save Our Planet” range comprises two colorways of the Era, UltraRange Rapidweld, Sk8-Hi Reissue and Slide-On styles as well as companion apparel pieces. Vans is donating up to $200,000 of proceeds from the line to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting Hawaii’s coastlines. The line is available for purchase now on Vans.com and at select Vans retailers.
The sneaker brand uses innovative, eco-friendly materials in its sneaker styles, such as fair-trade cotton and B-Mesh, a textile made from recycled plastic bottles. Like Rothy’s, Veja has found a fan in Meghan Markle, with celebrities including Emily Ratajkowski, Katie Holmes and Chloe Grace Moretz also becoming enthusiasts of its minimalist, eco-conscious silhouettes, including the V-10 and Esplar. The Instagram-friendly label’s shoes are sold in 1,800 stores across more than 40 countries, with over 3 million pairs sold since Veja’s inception in 2004.
Similar to Rothy’s, emerging brand Vivaia offers flats featuring 3D knit uppers spun from recycled plastic water bottles. Uniquely, the brand also offers low heeled styles made with the same construction, as well as pairs knit from wool. The shoe’s insoles include naturally sourced latex foam derived from rubber resin, while the outsoles are made with carbon-free rubber. And the packaging is sustainable too, crafted from 90% recycled cardboard with limited use of dyes. Alongside its eco-friendly product, Vivaia is committed to providing healthy conditions for its factory workers and minimizing energy usage in production (such as keeping lights on during the day inside the factory).