Four years ago when I started practicing conscious consumerism, I had the darndest time finding sustainable shoe companies I could trust. So many footwear brands didn’t openly talk about where their materials were from, how their shoes were made, and how they treated their workers. The opaque quality of the fashion industry is starting to be chipped away thanks to nonprofits such as Fashion Revolution and trending hashtags like #WhoMadeMyClothes.
Transparency is what I look for first and foremost when assessing if companies are eligible for these sustainable posts. If companies aren’t openly sharing how they treat their workers and what they are doing regarding buffering their effect on the environment, it’s a hard pass.
Next, materials used to make the shoes is assessed. If there is no open statement on their website about where they source their materials then it's a pass. I look for eco-friendly, regenerative or sustainable, and organic materials being used.
Lastly, how comfortable and versatile the shoes are comes into play. I won't lie, I think Toms are hella uncomfortable! Maybe my feet are extra sensitive. Rest assured, I won't be sharing any companies that may work hard to be transparent and eco-friendly, but fail to consider the customer's comfort level.
So let’s dive into the top three sustainable shoe companies I’ve found and why they rock!
This for all my freelancers out there who spend most of the busy season on their feet. As a photographer, I take my footwear choices seriously. TMI, my feet get nasty sweaty on those humid summer evenings while I’m photographing families and seniors. Then add on top of that wanting to be a more conscious consumer and suddenly finding cute and comfortable options for footwear you love basically turns to zero. Then the heavens parted I found Allbirds and my time on my feet has never been the same.
Allbirds are made from merino sheep wool, a renewable and sustainable material (thanks grazing sheep!). The sheep provide a symbiotic relationship with grasslands in New Zealand. In grazing, they help grass sequester more carbon from the atmosphere and actually negate the affects of climate change. By practicing rotational grazing, the sheep keep grass in it's teenage phase, where grass is between 6" and 10" tall. In this stage of growth, grass is able to absorb the most carbon from the atmosphere. How awesome is that!?
The natural wicking quality of these super soft fibers allows you to wear them without socks. My feet never smell and don't feel like they've been run over by a truck after a 10 hour photography day on my feet. The other materials Allbirds uses are recycled plastic bottles, castor bean oil, and some super cool lab-grown microorganisms. They are minimalist footwear at its finest. The company is a B Corporation, meaning they took the time to get officially certified by an independent third party that dives deep into the company’s human rights and labor policies and sustainable practices.
I could go on and on, but you can try them for 30 days with a no hassle return policy. These shoes are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, hands down.
I’ve had the same pair of Lauren Conrad boots for the last six years. This year I finally threw in the towel and knew it was time to replace them. It was emotional, I won’t lie. Finding cute boots that are versatile and comfortable can be a big challenge. I needed a pair that could function as casual footwear, but also be nice enough to wear for professional outings.
Oliberte target marketed me on Facebook, so good job there guys! I took a peek around their website and was pleasantly surprised. They were established in 2009 as a small footwear company who partnered with factories and suppliers in Africa. Then in 2012, they were able to open their very own factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Finally, in 2013 they became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified footwear manufacturing company. This company set out to create a sustainable social enterprise to bolster local community commerce and jobs vs. building a non-profit charity. They are working hard to end the cycle of poverty in Addis Ababa. Now they are B-Certified as well. Woo!
The boots are made with premium leather sourced from African farmers who raise free-range cattle and goats. The soles of the shoes are made with natural rubber sourced from African countries such as Libya and South Africa. As for the shoes’ quality, I am deeply impressed. The leather smells amazing and feels amazing. The boots’ soles are thick and comfortable. My pair did need a few weeks of wearing to “break them in” but that’s to be expected with any new pair of leather boots. They have a lifetime warranty too, showing how much Oliberte believes in their product.
If you haven’t heard of this company yet, don’t fret. They don’t have ads anywhere, and for good reason. Did you know that when you pay for most top brand sneakers’ prices, 30% goes to the raw materials involved and 70% goes to the marketing and advertising? Not only does this put suppliers at a disadvantage, but it keeps up our dependence on cheap non-renewable materials used in sneakers like polyester and foam. Veja wanted to shift that percentage so they could spend more on eco-friendly organic materials and less on the marketing. Now they wind up being about the same in price compared to top brand companies, but with none of the sweatshop issues and nonrenewable materials being used.
They utilize natural rubber, recycled plastic bottles, leather, and organic cotton to make their super comfortable sneakers. They are fair-trade certified and work with a French nonprofit that helps reintegrate the disadvantaged back into society. Even their finances are in check. They only bank with financial institutions that don’t have any branches in tax havens. Transparency is genuinely their motto as “Veja” means “look” in Portuguese. Their company has grown to 70 people, and they have sold over 2 million pairs of shoes. Wowza!
Their shoes are breathtakingly comfortable, adorable, and hip. Veja has a range of styles for every activity level and fashion taste. I seriously can’t recommend this company enough.
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