Discover the best sustainable shoes from brands that use eco-friendly, natural and non-toxic materials, pay fair wages to workers, and manufacturer in ethical factories.
It’s hard to think of a more important wardrobe staple than shoes. We rely on our shoes to get to work, the grocery store and the dog park. Our shoes come along on exciting vacations, fun parties, and trips to the beach.
But how often do you think about where your shoes come from? Are your shoes made from sustainable materials? Are the factory workers paid fair wages? What is the environmental impact of your shoes, and what happens to them after their useful life?
The truth is, your shoes can have a big impact on the world – both from a social and human rights perspective and on the environment. So if you want to be a conscious consumer, you’ll want to make sure you are purchasing ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly shoes!
Why Buy Sustainable Shoes?
What does it mean for shoes to be sustainable, and why does it even matter? Here are some not-so-fun facts about the fashion and footwear industry:
- The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of the world’s carbon footprint (and footwear is about 1/5th of that total). (source)
- A typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions (equivalent to keeping a 100-watt light bulb on for one week) (source)
- Less than 2% of the people making clothing and shoes around the world are paid a living wage (and 75% of those are women between the ages of 18 to 24). (source)
- Shoes are made from a variety of materials, making it very hard for them to be disassembled for recycling. (a sneaker could be made of 30 individual materials, and a hiking boot may require 100 materials) (source)
Watch The True Cost movie, for even more insight into the human rights issues in the fashion industry.
How to Identify an Ethical Shoe Company
A company that is committed to environmental and social responsibility and to protecting the human rights of workers, will have frameworks and certifications in place that monitor their progress on ethical production and sustainable practices. These certifications also help ensure transparency throughout the supply chain and manufacturing process.
Here are a few of the certifications to look for when you are shopping for ethical shoes:
Certified B-Corporation – B-Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Climate Neutral Certified – Ensures that a company is taking responsibility for their carbon emissions, including measurement, carbon off-sets, and plans to reduce future emissions.
Bluesign – Bluesign certifies that textile products are safe for the environment, workers, and customers, by eliminating harmful substances in each step of the supply chain.
Fair Labor Association – Assures the presence of systems and procedures to successfully uphold fair labor standards throughout the supply chains of a company.
Fair Trade Certified – Ensures that the products or materials were made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic Fair Trade standards to benefit the farmers and workers who produce them.
Leather Working Group Certified – LWG certification ensures that the company has a protocol in place to use sustainable environmental practices in leather production.
Canopy – Canopy works with companies around the world to protect the world’s forests, species, and climate.
WRAP Certified – WRAP certifies factories for apparel and footwear to ensure safe, legal and ethical manufacturing processes.
PETA Approved Vegan – This logo ensures that the product is made without any animal products or animal by-products.
Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) – This standard ensures that wool comes from farms that address the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on.
Besides certifications, you can also check the company website for frameworks, councils or other initiatives that track their social good and sustainability efforts.
Eco-Friendly Materials To Look for in Your Sustainable Shoes
Clearly, there are many factors involved in creating eco-friendly, non toxic shoes, but one thing you can look for are the sustainable materials used in manufacturing of your footwear.
Here are some of the different materials you will find in sustainable shoes:
- organic cotton (or sustainably produced, conventional cotton)
- merino wool
- hemp fiber
- Tencel™ made from natural fibers (eucalyptus trees or beech tree)
- sustainably sourced leather
- natural rubber
Recycled and Recyclable Materials
- fabric and fibers made from upcycled plastic bottles and ocean plastic
- recycled polyester
- recycled rubber
- recycled cotton
Bio-Based Foams & Plastics
- algae-based foam
- sugarcane based foam
- bio-based PU (polyurethane)
- water-based glues
The Best Sustainable Shoes I’ve Tried (and Some that I Haven’t)
So next time you are in the market for a new pair of shoes, whether it’s everyday sneakers, fun sandals or some killer boots, be sure to check out these ethical shoe brands that I’ve rounded up for you. They all have some major eco-cred as well as ethical standards and certifications.
Here are 7 of the best sustainable shoe brands for women and men that I’ve found:
Allbirds is best known for lightweight, breathable sneakers and shoes made from sustainable, natural materials.
- Sustainability Points: The Allbirds Flight Plan is a list of sustainability commitments designed to cut their carbon footprint in half by 2025 (without relying on carbon offsets).
- Materials Used: Shoe uppers made from FSC certified eucalyptus tree fiber or merino wool, foam made from responsibly sourced sugarcane, shoelaces made from recycled plastic water bottles.
- Certifications: Certified B Corporation
- Based In: San Francisco, CA (with roots in New Zealand)
- Manufactured In: Sustainable factories in Vietnam, South Korea and China
- Best For: Everyday sneakers
- Favorite Product: Tree Skippers
Buy Allbirds (get a free pair of socks with the purchase of shoes)
Nisolo makes ethically produced leather shoes and boots using a sustainability framework that is transparent and accountable for their impact on people and the planet.
- Sustainability Points: Their innovative Sustainability Facts Label scores each item on how well it rates on 10 categories concerning people and the planet.
- Nisolo has a strong commitment to paying 100% living wages to factory workers, as well as a healthy and safe workplace.
- Nisolo embraces a circular fashion system and offsets 100% of carbon emissions in order to be carbon neutral.
- Materials Used: Leather Working Group certified leather
- Certifications: Certified B Corporation, Climate Neutral Certified, Leather Working Group Certified
- Based In: Nashville, TN
- Manufactured In: Their own factories in Trujillo, Peru and ethical partner factories in León, Mexico
- Best For: Boots, flats and sandals
- Favorite Product: Everyday Chelsea Boot
Buy Nisolo (check website for discounts, free shipping over $200)
Rothy’s specializes in washable shoes made from recycled materials. Every single shoe is fully machine washable and make to last. No fast fashion here!
- Sustainability Points: Rothy’s Shoes has a goal of achieving a closed-loop production model by 2023. They have an 8 member Sustainability Council to monitor their progress.
- If you are looking for vegan shoes, Rothy’s are it (except for the merino wool collection)
- Materials Used: Fabric from recycled plastic bottles, foam made from algae, natural rubber soles, bio-based PU
- Certifications: None
- Based In: San Francisco
- Manufactured In: Fully owned and operated factory in Dongguan, China
- Best For: Casual flats
- Favorite Product: I’ve got my eye on a pair of Rothys Flats to wear around the house
Buy Rothy’s (Get $20 off first purchase of $100+ when you sign up for emails)
TOMS was founded on a mission to give away one pair of shoes for every pair sold, while also being mindful of the planet.
- Sustainability Points: The earthwise™ collection is produced with sustainable materials at a minimum percentage.
- Materials Used: Organic cotton, recycled cotton, jute, linen, recycled polyester, TENCEL™, recycled PU foam
- Certifications: B-Corporation, Leather Working Group, Canopy
- Based In: Los Angeles
- Manufactured In: China and Vietnam
- Best For: Comfy slip-ons
- Favorite Product: I’ve got my eyes on a pair of these Linen Alpargatas
Buy TOMS (Get 20% off when you sign up for their emails)
Icebug’s goal is to save the world from slipping with their studded boots and shoes. Icebug footwear uses BUGrip technology that integrate steel studs into a rubber sole to provide the best possible traction.
- Sustainability Points: In 2019, Icebug became the first “climate positive” outdoor footwear brand. Sustainability is built into their business model, from materials to transportation and every aspect of their company.
- Materials Used: Recycled polyester, natural rubber, BLOOM® foam (made from algae), recycled plastic
- Certifications: Many materials are bluesign® or Öko-Tex certified
- Based In: Göteborg, Sweden
- Manufactured In: Vietnam and China
- Best For: Winter boots
- Favorite Product: Ivalo4 Women’s BUGrip
Isobaa makes footwear and apparel designed to help people get outside and make the most out of nature.
- Sustainability Points: Merino wool is at the heart of the Isobaa brand because it is a natural material that will biodegrade at the end of its useful life.
- Materials Used: Merino wool (non-mulesed), recycled polyester, recycled rubber, algae BLOOM foam
- Certifications: Bluesign, Fair Labour Association
- Based In: London, UK
- Manufactured In: Vietnam (shoes) and China (apparel) in internationally audited factories to confirm working conditions are fair, safe, and environmentally sound.
- Best For: Eco-friendly trainers
- Favorite Product: Merino Wool Trainers
Buy Isobaa (Use code MINDFUL25 for 25% off full priced products)
The company was founded using natural materials such as reeled wool from their own production, and flexible cork-latex footbeds, and traditional craftsmanship.
- Sustainability Points: Dedication to using only high quality, natural materials for their products.
- Materials Used: 100% wool felt upper, cork-latex arch supports and footbeds, wool felt insole liners
- Certifications: Woolmark (guarantees that the product is made of 100% pure new wool and signifies the quality of wool used.
- Based In: Goslar, Germany
- Manufactured In: Germany
- Best For: Clogs and slippers
- Favorite Product: GZ Classic Grizzly Clog
AKS was founded by two sisters who were on a mission to help women and fix the wasteful supply chain in the fashion industry. They hire local artisans in Pakistan to hand-embroider the sneakers.
- Sustainability Points: AKS sneakers are made from only two natural materials, and are 100% recyclable.
- Materials Used: Organic cotton, natural rubber
- Certifications: Fair Trade Certified (cotton), PETA approved vegan, WRAP certified factory
- Based In: San Francisco, CA
- Manufactured In: Pakistan
- Best For: Sustainable sneakers
- Favorite Product: I have my eyes on the Black Floral High Top
Do you have a favorite sustainable shoe brand? Tell us in the comments!
P.S. Looking for more sustainable products? I’ve got you covered!