The 3 Best Sustainable Sneaker Brands

When it comes to emerging lifestyle brands, the importance of sustainability has become a key element of the design and marketing of many popular products as the consumer base grows increasingly aware of the environmental impact of clothing and other goods. As such, entire industries are reimagining their production pipelines to accommodate environmentally-friendly business, leveraging innovations in engineering and design to reduce their carbon footprints and  material waste. 

While they are often more expensive than their competitors, environmentally-friendly products are generally more aesthetically pleasing and durable, as rarely-utilized environmentally-friendly materials offer unique benefits. When it comes to shoes, for example, traditional materials including leather and plastic are environmentally-dubious at best and destructive at worst, as most leather is tied to the notoriously inefficient cattle industry and plastic takes centuries, if not millennia, to degrade. Recently, a number of brands have introduced shoes that are not only comfortable and stylish, but are manufactured using environmentally-friendly materials and processes, giving their customers confidence that they are dealing with ethically-sound businesses.

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Allbirds, for instance, is a brand of footwear that has exploded in popularity recently due to its unique approach to manufacturing. Instead of materials such as leather, plastic, and polyester, Allbirds sells shoes made from wool harvested from sheep in New Zealand and “responsibly harvested eucalyptus tree fibers,” among other options. Additionally, the company’s disposable packaging is made from recycled cardboard, and the shoes’ plastic laces are made from recycled bottles. 

Thanks to this choice of materials, Allbirds shoes boast properties that are unique in the industry. TIME magazine declared Allbirds’ flagship wool runners to be “the world’s most comfortable shoes,” and as they are mostly made from wool, Allbirds shoes can be thrown in the washing machine and dryer. Wool shoes keep the wearer’s feet cool in the summer and warm in winter, and due to wool’s moisture-wicking properties, you don’t necessarily need to wear socks with these shoes, though of course it doesn’t hurt. Allbirds is dedicated to being a 100% carbon neutral company, as what little carbon the company does emit is offset by a self-imposed carbon tax.

Allbirds, of course, is not the only sustainable footwear brand. Shoes made by Veja feature soles created from wild rubber harvested from the Amazon rainforest via a process that doesn’t damage the ecosystem. While Allbirds takes advantage of a minimalist, utilitarian design philosophy, Veja’s shoes are more conspicuous, with most of the company’s offerings featuring a brightly colored V symbol along the sides of the shoes. Nonetheless, Veja incorporates environmentally-friendly materials throughout the production process, including recycled fabrics and plastic as well as synthetic suede. Veja is committed not only to environmentalism, but also economic justice, as the company prioritizes treating employees with dignity and respect over cost-cutting measures. Despite the use of more expensive materials, Veja is able to sell their shoes at competitive prices because they don’t advertise.

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A third brand to consider if you’re looking for environmentally-friendly and ethically-produced footwear is Wado. Wado’s ethical pledge is similar to others in this article; the company uses sustainable materials extensively, manufactures shoes in Europe instead of Asian countries that provide cheap but unethical labor, and contributes to reforestation efforts. Wado’s style is nostalgic yet attractive, as many of their sneakers appear as though they were designed in the 1980’s, featuring thick soles and air holes for ventilation. Nonetheless, the shoes are constructed from innovative materials, like organic cotton, recycled foam and wood chips, and so-called “vegan leather.”

Sustainable brands, of course, are not limited to footwear but can be found in nearly every category of lifestyle products, whether that be clothing, accessories, or homeware. While you may have to pay a little bit extra for sustainable products like these, the knowledge that you’re helping to preserve the environment coupled with the enhanced durability and design of these items can offset the financial concern for many customers.