There’s a greater focus on transparency within the apparel industry, particularly as we near closer to Earth Day on the 22nd April and Fashion Revolution Week from the 23rd-29th April, whereby the movement calls on all of us to ask the brands we wear, “who made my clothes?” But, what about the shoes on our feet? Beyond knowing what trainers tribe you belong to, do we really give enough consideration to the practices used to manufacture our favourite footwear, from trainers to heels, and everything in between?
Would it surprise you that there’s a cocktail of harmful chemicals often found in shoes; from solvent-based glues, petroleum-based components, to toxic leathers. These residues could be heavy metals such as Mercury, Lead, Chromium and Arsenic, which are potentially carcinogenic, making it incredibly harmful to the people working with it and to waterways.
Times are changing, though. From leather alternatives and recycled rubber, to environmentally friendly manufacturing facilities, footwear brands committed to sustainability are no-longer niche players but becoming legit fashion contenders, too. With ideas evolving into innovations and consumer preferences shifting, there’s a sustainable footwear brand for every style you’re channeling.
Rooted in transparency, organic materials and fair trade sourcing and production, this French trainers brand really is a cut above the rest. If you’re going for the less of a “look”, simple, white-based trainers or retro runners, Veja is the sneaker label for you. They use vegetable-tanned leather (using acacia rather than chrome), uppers are made from recycled plastic, the wild rubber for the soles is sustainably harvested from the amazon, and recycled cotton is used for the laces. Did we mention they’re a favourite amongst the fashion pack, too?
For women’s fashion footwear brand Coclico, that journey includes using third party, eco-certified tanneries as much as possible and working with Native Energy, a provider of carbon offsets, to minimise its footprint.
The brand is also introducing vegetable-tanned lining leather that has zero trace of chrome and a new natural rubber latex insole with recycled cork and linen. “We use recycled cork for our internal platforms, solid cork blocks and solid wood heels,” said designer Lisa Nading. “We periodically review the supply chain with our suppliers to track that these materials are sustainably sourced. And we are working with knits now that are custom made to order, reducing waste.”
Alternatively, look for footwear brands that choose to work with deadstock or reclaimed materials. This means they don’t require any further resources to create their shoes, instead working with what already exists, often luxe materials from designer brands off-cuts and end of line runs. Additionally, opt for footwear that has been handmade or made locally to the label, as this ensures a level of craftsmanship and skill, as well as ethical practices that can be overseen by the brand.
Australian/Bulgarian footwear label By Far Noticing a gap in the market for high quality yet affordable fashion footwear made fairly, the three founders sought out to produce handmade, high quality shoes locally in Bulgaria, designing for women like themselves. Revisiting classic styles and mixing with modern and vintage, the label presents a collection of effortlessly cool and youthful styles, all the while made consciously by integrating deadstock leather derived from luxury Italian factories, as well as premium Italian materials.
Whichever style or look you’re going for, there are now so many young, fresh and style-conscious brands out there, with highly relevant sustainable and ethical footwear offerings.